With San Francisco’s annual Pride Parade just weeks away, a transgender-rights tussle is brewing aboard The City’s roving town square: Muni.
City transit officials are pulling down what it calls “illegal” unofficial signage that speaks out against transphobia hung on Muni trains, like the N-Judah, a route which ferries 43,000 riders daily. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation agency also said it may pursue “legal action” against the person posting them.
While SFMTA said it believes in equality for all, it also takes issue with the transgender-pride signs because they are crafted to look like official signage produced by SFMTA itself.
“Muni ALERT,” the hanging cards read. Under a large, Muni-style “N,” the card continues, “Transphobia Prohibited At all stops between Ocean Beach and Caltrain,” and “We’re still fucking here. If you fuck with us, we’ll fuck you up. Be gay, do crime.”
Those cards were hung from handlebars on N-Judah trains Wednesday, Pride Train SF told the San Francisco Examiner.
The party behind the signage declined to be named.
“This is an illegal use of the Muni logo and of our Muni vehicles,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose, in a statement. He added, “Legal action is also an option, if needed.”
That last statement rankled at least one local transgender community leader.
Aria Sa’id, executive director of Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, in San Francisco, said she recognizes SFMTA’s right to take down signage that mirrors its own. She also pointed out SFMTA was collaborating with the transgender district on some positive signage there, too.
But, she added, “I think it’s really gross SFMTA would even consider pursuing legal recourse.”
Apparently, SFMTA particularly took exception to the messaging to “do crime.”
“San Francisco is a city of tolerance, but violence or criminal activity is not something we would support,” Rose said.
Yet it’s criminal activity against the transgender community that inspired the signage in the first place.
The anonymous person behind Pride Train SF identifies as trans and prefers the pronouns she and they, she told the San Francisco Examiner in an interview first conducted by phone, and then via Twitter messages. She grew up in Queens and came to San Francisco six years ago, and is a self-described “transit geek.”
She found herself inspired by the original Pride Train movement in New York City, which launched three years ago to raise awareness about violence against transgender people on and near transit. Roughly twenty volunteers from the group have spread trans-positive and anti-transphobia literature across New York’s subways. All of it is made to resemble actual New York City Transit Authority signage.
The group has already expanded to Boston, MA, but has recieved hundreds of requests from San Francisco fans to expand into The City, representatives from New York’s Pride Train group told the Examiner. “And they’ve beat us to it!” they said, of the SF group.
Pride Train SF had already done the “digital work” to produce their SF Muni signs, but “while I was waiting for it to print” she saw a person who identified as transgender was shoved to the ground from behind in the historically gay Castro neighborhood.
The news of the incident surfaced June 6. “The disturbing part of this was that this was a totally unprovoked attack,” said San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott at a Police Commission meeting in June. Pride Train SF said that attack “made it all the more necessary” to move forward and craft the signage to post on Muni vehicles.
“It was just a reminder that anything can happen at any time anywhere, it’s really hard to feel safe in public when you’re really easy to clock, so making a public space as safe and trans-friendly as possible was definitely a goal,” she said.
And while she herself hasn’t been physically attacked, the person behind Pride Train SF said verbal harassment is something almost everyone who in the transgender community experiences.
SFMTA countered that they have their own signage, in a campaign they launched in 2014. Those signs tout the messages “Love” and “Peace,” and feature quotes from notables like poet Maya Angelou or the revolutionary Nelson Mandela.
But Pride Train SF took issue with those signs standing in for their own transgender-specific signs, and likened it to saying “All Lives Matter” to counter a rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter.”
Sa’id, the head of the transgender district, agreed, and said “that campaign is insufficient,” because “the people you just listed are not trans. They’re black, yes. And they are freedom fighters we look to.”
But, she thinks there’s a far easier way SFMTA could easily meet the call for transgender community justice head-on.
“They should be replicating these signs for all of their transit facilities in support of the trans community,” Sa’id said. “I think Muni should be inspired by these little signs and actually put them up themselves.”