December 2002 - January 2003
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Is Noe Valley Safe for Transgender Youth?
By Erin O'Briant
You must have seen it by now. It's that huge blue Victorian on Market Street at the corner of Octavia, adjoined on one side by a modern glass building filled with multicolored lights. But you might not have known that San Francisco's new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center is headed up by Noe Valley resident Brian Cheu.
Cheu, who's lived on 24th Street between Sanchez and Church for 10 years, stepped up to his new position last May after serving for four years as executive director of the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC) in the Castro. "I thought a long time about whether I wanted to apply for this position because I was really happy at LYRIC," he says. "But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
His first six months as executive director of the new center have been positive, Cheu says, but not always easy. "Getting any new nonprofit off the ground is challenging," he notes.
And what Cheu delicately refers to as "the economics of the times" makes it even tougher. "People don't have as much to give as they used to."
Still, he says, a broad constituency has made economic survival through the 2002 recession easier for the center than it has been for many Bay Area nonprofits.
Cheu, 39, won't even estimate how many hours he works, but says his week is certainly full. He meets with visitors to the building, supervises a staff of about 20, and works with the center's board of directors. He's also partnering with other community-based organizations to see how the center can support their work.
There is much to be done. The modern half of the building was the first-ever LGBT community center built from the ground up--and the finishing touches are not yet complete. At the top of Cheu's to-do list is getting the physical details of the building wrapped up. Second is outreach. "There are still a lot of people who've heard about the center but who haven't actually come inside, so we'd like to have them come get a taste of what's going on here," Cheu explains. "We know we can't do everything for everybody, but we'd like to have as diverse an offering as possible."
The four-story building offers a mix of meeting rooms, open spaces, and "hang-out" areas. The modern side has a flexible floor plan, so that an area that serves as a lobby by day doubles as an art gallery and party space at night. The center's offices house an enormous variety of organizations, from the Harvey Milk Institute, to the Black Coalition on AIDS, to the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits. Together these groups support the needs of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. No one knows exactly how many people that is, but Cheu says some estimates go as high as 25 percent in San Francisco.
As it turns out, the needs of the LGBT community aren't necessarily specific to queer folks. "The most common request is, 'I moved to the city and I can't find a job--can you help me find a job?' Or, 'I moved to the city and I can't afford any place to live--can you help me?'" Cheu says. "Often if someone's new to the town who's from the community, even if they don't know what the resources are, they figure there's probably a community center." A job board provides some answers for employment-seekers, and Cheu says the organization may come up with more formal solutions to employment and housing questions in the future.
Cheu invites his neighbors in Noe Valley, gay, straight, or otherwise, to come check the center out and sign up to receive its calendar. There's a lot going on over the holidays, including a Queer Jitterbugs swing dance holiday party on Dec. 28 and a multimedia art exhibit.
"Long-term, we'd like to see the center become a one-stop-shopping kind of a place, where you can come in and find information and referrals for just about anything you can think of."
For more information about the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, call 415-865-5555 or visit www.sfgaycenter.org.
The October murder of Gwen Araujo, a male-to-female transgender youth who lived in the East Bay, has awakened many locals to the reality of violence against transgender people, young ones in particular.
According to Bay Area transgender rights activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith, 24 transgender people have been murdered due to hatred or prejudice since the beginning of 2002, 13 of them in the United States. Smith is the organizer of the annual Day of Remembrance for murdered transgender people. (The event was held Nov. 20.)
As to whether Noe Valley is safe for transgender youth, it depends on how you define the boundaries of the neighborhood, says Brian Cheu, executive director of San Francisco's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center and former director of the Lavender Youth Information and Recreation Center (LYRIC), a support group for GLBT and questioning youth.
"We heard more stories coming out of the high school level--a lot of incidents out of Mission High. We didn't hear that much from James Lick School, but I think that's more based on the fact that traditionally, transgender youth come out at a later stage of life than lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth."
Whatever the location, though, Cheu characterizes violence against transgender youth as "common," and says that during his four years at LYRIC, he heard about many incidents occurring throughout San Francisco, from victims, teachers, and school staff.
For more information on LYRIC, visit www.lyric.org or call 415-703-6150. For more information about the Day of Remembrance, visit www.rememberingourdead.org.