SF posts new street signs and trans Pride flags across Compton’s Transgender Cultural District

New markers remind community of long history of struggle in Tenderloin neighborhood

Chinatown. Japantown. The Castro. North Beach.

These San Francisco neighborhoods are havens for their respective communities, ad they broadcast that identity to the world through one common feature: placemaking.

Massive concrete lions guard the gate to Chinatown’s Grant Avenue. Japantown’s Peace Pagoda stands tall, signaling neighborhood heritage from blocks away. The Castro is festooned with iconic rainbow flags, proclaiming Pride year round. And throughout “Little Italy” one can find striped Italian flags painted around streetlights leading to historic ristorantes.

Now another historic neighborhood is joining in that proud San Franciscan tradition.

With only a week to go before the June 28, 2019 Trans March, The City’s work to demarcate the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District neighborhood in the Tenderloin is done.

A dozen signs with the name of the district have been erected, and earlier in June streetlights were painted with the distinctive blue, pink and white design of the Trans Pride flag.

It’s a crowning moment for Aria Sa’id, the advocate and political strategist who now serves as the district’s executive director.

“I wanted something that was going to be iconic,” she said.

Sa’id sat down with the San Francisco Examiner at Pentacle Coffee co. on Sixth and Jessie Streets, at the edge of the Trans District, to celebrate the new additions to the neighborhood. As she pulled the wilted cardboard straw out of her cold brew coffee (“I hate cardboard straws,” she said) , Sa’id looked over her shoulder to a stunning, wall-sized mural of two angelic men embracing to kiss.

In many ways, that’s the striking effect she hopes the Trans Pride flags and street signs have on people coming to the district. Japantown, North Beach and The Mission’s soon-to-come Calle 24 Latino Cultural District all served as inspirations on how to remind their communities of their long histories.

Japantown for instance, “they’ve been here for 100 years now,” Sa’id said. That astounds her because trans people face very real dangers from transphobia that often see their lives cut far too short.

“Our life expectancy is 35-years-old,” Sa’id said. “We are disposable, dispensable.”

She never thought about old age, she said, because she never expected to live that long.

Now, she’s filled with pride.

Hoping to make a bold statement, she first planned to install pink, blue and white crosswalks across the district, much like the rainbow crosswalks on 18th and Castro Streets. But with the Better Market Street and other street projects soon on the way, transit officials warned her those designs would be torn up anyhow.

Later then, perhaps. For now, she said, recalling seeing those pride flags on every streetlight for the first time brought a wistful look to her face.

“I didn’t know how much it would mean to me until I saw it,” she said.

Making a permanent tribute to Trans Pride was a city effort: The District 6 Supervisor’s Office identified funding so the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency could install the street signs and San Francisco Public Works could paint flags across the streetlights.

It isn’t all roses: Earlier this year Divas, a bar and community touchstone for transgender women for 21 years, shut its doors. And in their first month, Sa’id said, some of the painted trans flags have already been defaced with anti-trans epithets.

But Sa’id said those kinds of setbacks are nothing new in her roughly ten years in San Francisco. The Examiner has recounted her story before, but it is one that bears repeating, as it mirrors the experience of many vulnerable trans people in The City.

An out trans woman, Sa’id came to The City and, at the age of 19, found herself engaging in what she calls survival sex work just to get by. And like many trans people in San Francisco, even now, she experienced bouts of homelessness.

Those are the people the Trans District aims to help — other trans people, especially people of color, who need a leg up to succeed. Sa’id’s work won’t stop at just flags, she said.

Soon the Trans District will open a small space for a business, which Sa’id thinks will be a coffee shop, to offer employment to trans people who need it. Housing for her community is also a long-term goal, Sa’id said, which Haney said he would work toward funding.

Sa’id has time. Even now, she’s planning ahead.

“What does 110 years of a trans district look like?” she asked.

That’s the question she and her community will answer in a place that now is beginning to look more home — flags and all.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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