By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
If some were to mention “Divas Night Club” to the average San Francisco resident in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the word “Haven” would not probably be the last word to come to mind. Words like dangerous, scary, drugs, homeless, hookers, police, vice, squad, are words more commonly used to describe the poverty-stricken (but quickly being gentrified) area that surrounds San Francisco’s #1 transgender nightclub.
Dictionary.com defines “Haven” as: “any place of shelter and safety; refuge; a asylum.’’
And a place of shelter and relative safety is exactly Divas has been to San Francisco’s transgender community, the most vulnerable community, within the LGBTQ community. Even in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the entire world, the transgender population is still heavily discriminated against, so much so that many of them are today, being forced in the illegal sex industry, just to survive and afford their daily needs.
The National Center for Transgender equality, states: The National Discrimination Survey showed that: “26% of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of trans students were harassed or assaulted. And the transphobia that drives the discrimination is exacerbated when the trans person is a person of color and also faces compounding racism. Trans people of color face higher rates of discrimination.”
Long before Lavarne Cox from “Orange is the New Black” and Caitlyn Jenner brought the transgender movement to mainstream America, Divas was at the forefront of the transgender movement.
Despite that fact, many transgender Bills are sweeping across red-state America, attempting to disenfranchise even more, an already marginalized people, like a controversial transgender Bill that was proposed last year by South Carolina Senator Lee Bright, that aimed to block transgender people from using the bathroom for the gender they identify with. But you will not find people crying about that here, in this four-story club, with three open to the public, which has always sought to empower trans-people, by giving them jobs as bartenders, cocktail waitresses, DJ’s, dancers, promoters, etc.
And though far from perfect; if you were to walk pass Divas on 1081 Post street, which is next to a SFPD firehouse and a weed shop, during the night hours you will soon notice many scantily clad transgender women walking up and down the street, people buying weed at the pot dispensary next door and some shady characters in this “Not so Tender”, Tenderloin neighborhood.
All that being said, Divas is still the number #1 hangout spot for pre-op trans-people, crossdressers, post-op trans-people, drag queens, gender benders, female impersonators, and non-binary gender people within the SF Bay Area. It is also a place where men questioning their sexuality, bi-sexual men, straight men, and men interested in trans-women and trans-women interested in men can explore their sexuality without the harsh judgement of bigots.
Dance shows happen on Wednesday and Thursday
On Friday Night, a couple of weeks ago, I walked into Divas and met a trans-women, who goes by the name Shelley Wilde, she was behind the bar, tending to patrons, she kind of looked like a 40ish version of Adele.
When asked has Divas in her opinion been good for the transgender community? Wilde said: “It can be very good if you allow it. It has been good for men, but unfortunately a lot of trans-women you see are in the sex industry’’.
When asked if she is originally from San Francisco? Wilde said: “No. I am originally from Texas, I moved to San Francisco 13 years ago.”
When asked how long has Divas existed? Wilde said: “for over 30 years, it was first called the Motherlode, it was at another location. It has been at this location for over 15 years.”
After Wilde returns from serving several thirsty patrons at her bar, which is starting to get busy this evening, she is asked if she believes Divas has been good for the transgender community? Wilde said: I would say yes. Most of us are so busy with our own lives, but when we’re here together, it’s a little community.”
As it got later in the night and various demographics of people continued to arrive, drink and party, Wilde was asked one last question. Would you say Divas is friendly to non-trans and LGBTQ people? Wilde said: “Yes. All people are welcome. Most of our patrons are straight men.”