Yesterday, San Francisco’s Planning Commission voted four-to-three to allow the construction of a 12-story condo and hotel complex along Market Street even though a coalition made up of former San Francisco City Supervisors, community leaders and LGBTQ organizations had requested a delay to the construction in a letter to the Commission this last Monday. The letter says that the construction threatens to destroy several LGBT historical sites including the location of the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riot, a transgender uprising against police aggression that predates the Stonewall Riots by three years.
The letter states:
“… we are requesting additional time of 60 to 90 days for the Compton’s Historic District Committee to conduct an appropriate process to be able to meet with historic preservationists, labor, developers, and allies in other communities with the aim of reaching a consensus on how to best preserve these important historic assets in the area around the historic Compton’s building.”
In addition to the Compton’s building, the letter lists other LGBTQ historical sites including El Rosa Hotel, “one of the only residential hotels to provide housing for trans sex workers”; the Dalt Hotel, “one of the first housing opportunities to advertise in gay newspapers”; and the Ambassador Hotel, “an important housing resource from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.” The letter also says that “the entire intersection of Market, Mason, and Turk (aka. the Meat Market), was an important hustling and cruising site where gay men went to socialize in an era when our existence was illegal.”
The letter continues: “These bars, businesses and organizations were instrumental in fostering queer safe spaces, as they were often the only places available for queer people to meet one another, and to organize, within the larger, often threatening society at that time. In sum, these locales were safe havens for our community.”
Most interestingly, the letter also claims that many of the bygone LGBTQ bars were “connected by an intact underground tunnel system that patrons used to escape police raids and to avoid the loss of employment, family, and housing that were risked in those days by homosexual association,” although an initial look into this claim by the local CBS news affiliate uncovered no such tunnels.
Nonetheless, the letter sought a delay in order to conduct a theme study of the area to “digest and process the impact and magnitude of the potential losses” and gain insight “into how ‘place’ is critically important to the creation of LGBTQ relevant communities; our collective history, psychology, vision, values and community engagement.”
Despite the Planning Commission’s decision to allow construction, one of the letter’s signers—Nate Allbee, an advocate with the San Francisco LGBTQ Legacy Business Coalition—plans to appeal the decision which could still delay the construction. The Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project; the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; the GLBT Historical Society; and AIDS Housing AllianceSF all co-signed onto the letter as well.
The fight over this particular area raises a larger question: how can we claim our shared queer history when developers may well be unaware of that history or just plain inconsiderate of it? Trans people, sex workers and other LGBTQ individuals have typically lacked the economic and political power to reshape cityscapes, and much of our history remains invisible to the mainstream world (does any public school outside of California even teach LGBTQ history?). Thus, it behooves LGBTQ people to support Allbee and his ilk in this and future turf battles, or an entire era of transgender and queer sex-worker history could literally be erased forever.