It’s a tried and true formula.
Cities have used it for years to reduce populations of ethnic minorities they didn’t like. In the 1960s, the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority gutted the Fillmore area of the city, a long-time African American neighborhood, a place where jazz clubs and jazz culture flourished. Author James Baldwin described it as “Negro removal.”
A similar project to “develop” the downtown area known as Manilatown involved tearing down the I-Hotel where many poor Filipinos lived. The struggle to save the hotel garnered international attention (Harvey Milk was among the many local leaders who joined the picket lines outside the place), but it was ultimately torn down.
Not long after the I-Hotel struggle, tenants and others organized to stop the demolition of 4,000 SRO units and low-rent apartment complexes from the South of Market area. A convention center and high-end shopping area was planned to remove “urban blight.” San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal revealed the true intent of the project, writing in its “prologue for action” that if the city wanted to compete with other places it “will have to move closer to standard white Anglo-Saxon Protestant characteristics.” Though activists were able to delay the project for years, inevitably the Yerba Buena Redevelopment Project went forward and lots of poor and working-class folks were displaced.
Now, San Francisco is planning queer removal.
City officials want to give Twitter and other corporations a nice tax break for six years if they locate their offices in the mid-Market and Tenderloin areas of the city, areas that are home to poor people, including a lot of poor queers. Twitter currently has office space in nearby South of Market, but needs more space to expand.
It’s a recipe for disaster for poor folks, queers included.
Since its gentrification during the dot-com boom of the late 90s, the Castro has become home to the city’s new middle- and upper-middle class queers, not to mention straights. Pushed out of the Castro by rising rents and the greed of landlords and speculators, poor queers sought refuge in the Tenderloin, an area that has a long queer and transgender history. Not only did it house early queer organizations, but it was also the site of San Francisco’s first transgender uprising.
In 1966 at a cafeteria known as Compton’s in the heart of the Tenderloin, a riot broke out after a cop tried to arrest a rowdy queen. The establishment’s window was smashed and news boxes were overturned. The incident predated the Stonewall Riots, long thought to be the first queer riot in America. In the aftermath of the incident, transgender groups sprung up and a relationship with the police department was developed.
That long history is about to come to a screeching end.
With Twitter and others in the area, the price of real estate will skyrocket and landlords will cash in. Why would they continue to rent to poor folks when they could fix up their places and rent to those with higher income?
In no time at all, the deal that has been fleshed out behind closed doors in San Francisco City Hall will transform the neighborhoods into places where poor people can no longer live. And the service organizations that help them will also be sent packing.
Another step in the removal of poor people from San Francisco.