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Published on June 13, 2024
San Francisco Declares Itself a Sanctuary City for Transgender Rights Amid Nationwide Legislative BattlesSource: Getty Images / Lachlan Cunningham

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to declare the city a sanctuary for transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit people, making it the first major U.S. city to do so. This historic decision, endorsed by all eleven members of the board, underscores San Francisco's commitment to providing safety and guidance for its transgender community amidst a rising tide of anti-transgender legislation across the nation.

The resolution, sponsored by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and co-sponsored by several other board members, aims to create a protective environment for transgender individuals. "With this resolution, we are reaffirming that our City has been and will continue to be a sanctuary and a beacon for our transgender and gender non-conforming siblings," Mandelman said in a statement reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. The policy not only serves as a symbolic gesture but is also intended to guide local law enforcement in dealing with outside agencies on transgender-related issues.

San Francisco's declaration comes at a crucial time when more than 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation have been introduced in over 40 states in 2024 alone as the San Francisco Chronicle reports. These proposed laws often target transgender youth and limit access to gender-affirming care. "As other cities and states turn up the hate, places like San Francisco need to turn up the love," Mandelman emphasized in a statement reported by The Hill. This stance is reflective of the city's ongoing commitment to support marginalized communities.

While the resolution builds on San Francisco’s legacy as a sanctuary city for immigrants, adopted in 1985, it also draws parallels to other progressive policies. Honey Mahogany, the director of San Francisco's Office of Transgender Initiatives, highlighted the city's unique role in providing resources and protection to prevent homelessness among the transgender community. "We have seen an influx of refugees, not just from other countries, but from other states who are seeking care and seeking sanctuary," Mahogany noted in comments to KTVU.

San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city extends from its significant place in LGBTQ history, including the Castro district, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the nation, and the world's first Transgender Cultural District as The Hill details. The district, located in the Tenderloin neighborhood, commemorates the Compton's Cafeteria Riot of 1966, a pivotal event in transgender rights activism.

The decision to declare sanctuary status for the transgender community also responds to the alarming statistics presented by advocacy groups and researchers. A 2020 Yale University study revealed that transgender people are approximately six times more likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, with gender-affirming care serving as a critical mitigator. Furthermore, the same study linked increased anti-transgender legislation to higher incidences of violence, noting that 32 transgender people were murdered in 2023, with 15 fatalities already recorded this year per the San Francisco Chronicle.

Moreover, growing public awareness and familiarity with transgender and nonbinary identities support this legislative shift. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that 44% of U.S. adults personally know someone who is transgender, and 20% know someone who identifies as nonbinary. Notably, 52% of adults aged 18-29 report knowing a transgender person according to Pew Research Center.

Overall, the sanctuary resolution is both a symbolic reaffirmation of San Francisco’s inclusive values and a practical framework to ensure the safety and dignity of the transgender community in the face of increasing legislative threats nationwide. As Suzanne Ford of SF Pride poignantly described, "Get to know us before you make a judgment" during an interview with KTVU.