The Tenderloin: San Francisco’s Hidden LGBT Cultural District

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

When you think of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ scene, most people think of the Castro. Many don’t know that the Castro was not always the center of LGBT+ history. Before the Stonewall riots in New York, there were riots in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. One of the most noteworthy uprisings, known as “Compton’s Cafeteria riot,” has been overshadowed by other LGBT+ and feminist marches—perhaps because it was started by black drag queens and other transgender people of color. Today, the black trans-female community is leading the charge to rebuild a powerful LGBTQ+ flock in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. When establishment media overlook the LGBT+ people of color in the Tenderloin district their important history gets washed away and they get pushed aside when others with money come into the neighborhood, looking for a business opportunity.

The LGBT policy advisor for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Aria Sa’id,  described how, in 2015, a developer wanted to build more hotels and bring in new housing to the neighborhood.  They saw “no historical value” in a neighborhood perceived as being full of “substance users and poor people.” Sa’id said of the developers. That attitude galvanized a band of Tenderloin locals who created the Q Foundation in 2016. The Q foundation is a non-profit organization that seeks to prevent homelessness for people living with HIV/AIDS. Willis’s Out article tells the stories of how they originally came the Tenderloin. For many, it was because the Castro was not welcoming to black trans persons who could not afford to live there. The work that the Q foundation and the “Tenderloin Three” have done over the years paid off in 2017 when the foundation worked with their district leader, Jane Kim, to come to a compromise with the developer. The city did approve some construction but the developer donated $30,000 to help create a community center that serves the neighborhood, which is now officially designated as a cultural district.  The Q Foundation and its allies are carving out a space in history, not only for San Francisco’s LGBT+ people of color but also for LGBT+ people of color from around the country.


Raquel Willis, “Black Trans Women Created the World’s First Trans Cultural District,” Out, February 18, 2019,

Neal Broverman, “Don’t Let’s Forget about Compton’s Cafeteria Riot,” The Advocate, August 2, 2018,

Student Researcher: Carla Naylor (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)