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News, Transgender Community

By Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle

This article was originally published on March 21, 2023 in San Francisco Chronicle. Click here to view the original article.

At one point when the Trans Thrive staff was moving into its new San Francisco facility just east of Van Ness Avenue, Nicky Calma wondered to herself if the space was going to be “too bougie” for clients who were used to visiting the cramped, shared quarters of their previous clinic in the Tenderloin.

The center at 1460 Pine St., which celebrates its grand opening Tuesday, has high open ceilings, a velvety soft pink sofa in the therapy room, and a back patio with an ivy-covered brick wall and strung white lights that could hold a wedding reception.

“I was thinking, are people going to come here?” said Calma, managing director of Trans Thrive, a health and resource clinic operated by the San Francisco Community Health Center. “But we deserve this space. The trans community – our lives – it’s worth caring for, it’s worth something like this.”

The 8,000-square-foot center is San Francisco’s first standalone facility for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, about 800 of whom are served by Trans Thrive each year, and it’s among only a handful of such spaces that exist in the United States.

Its opening couldn’t come at a better time, Calma and other staff say, as it represents San Francisco’s resolve to invest in the trans community even as anti-trans politics and legal actions are surging across the country.

“This space shows that we have doubled down on what we do (in San Francisco),” said Mo’Nique Campbell, Trans Thrive program manager. “The rest of the country is trying to shut down the services that are specialized for our survival.

“Trans people for a long time have just been surviving, and barely doing that, with the scraps they get,” Campbell said. “This is a place that shows them that you can thrive and there are people who are dedicated toward that.”

The center had a soft opening on March 13, and is still a work in progress. A closet-sized kitchen will be revamped into showers in the next phase, Calma said, and a room dedicated to youth services is still empty save a few beanbag chairs. Eventually Trans Thrive intends to add a large kitchen that clients can access.

Opening the facility “is kind of historical,” Calma said. “It proves that we’re invested in the community.”

With more than 400 anti-trans bills – many aimed at curtailing or banning access to gender-affirming health care and other resources – in play across the country, San Francisco has been held up as a sanctuary for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, Calma said. The new facility is symbolic of that safe haven.

“I’m so happy to have something like this, but is it enough?” she said. “We have hundreds of anti-trans bills going against us (in the U.S.), so even though we have all these amazing things happening here, we have to continue working. It feels like one wrong step, and everything can be gone.”

The facility, which previously housed private health offices, is being leased by San Francisco Community Health for $12,000 a month, and it’s funded largely through a $1.2 million investment from biotech giant Gilead of Foster City. Longer-term funding comes from a number of federal and local sources and grants. Feldman Architecture of San Francisco provided pro-bono design assistance.

“Coming from the LGBTQ+ community myself, we’ve started to feel more and more of the hate that is coming our way – and in particular the transgender community,” said Jane Stafford, executive director of public affairs at Gilead. “We wanted to provide funds to open a space that feels safe and embracing and has all of the wraparound services – even just a place to hang out – without risk of any negative consequence.”

The facility won’t solve all of the issues faced by the transgender community in San Francisco, Stafford added, “but it certainly addresses giving people a place where they can go and just be – be themselves, and be safe.”

Among services provided at the facility are: case management; behavioral and substance use counseling; social groups and events; testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections; and education and workforce training.

Everyone on the 12-member staff at Trans Thrive identifies as transgender or gender non-conforming, which is key to creating a welcoming, supportive space, Calma said. She added that it was critical that Trans Thrive clients and members of the community weigh in on what they wanted from the center. San Francisco Community Health held five focus groups and surveyed 50 transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in 2019 to help with that process.

“To have a space like this, of this caliber, is really major for the community,” said Erica Reyes, program supervisor with Trans Thrive who was a client herself for 16 years before joining the staff. “They’re used to being just, I don’t know – in the Tenderloin. We’re normally in these spaces that aren’t so great. The community really needs this, and they deserve it.”

Reach Erin Allday:; Twitter: @erinallday