Once America’s queer capital, San Francisco (and the entire West Coast with it) is being reshaped and remodeled by Silicon Valley’s wealthy residents. Spiking rents and exploding gentrification are financially crippling even those working full-time and pushing out longtime residents of LGBT havens like the Mission and Castro.
Within this groundswell is the controversial launch of Yass, an event space “for today’s generation of queer people” coming to San Francisco’s Mission and backed by infamous venture capitalist Peter Thiel. (Thiel, a billionaire co-founder of PayPal, secretly funded a lawsuit that led to the bankruptcy of Gizmodo’s former owner, Gawker Media.)
Set to open Spring ‘18, Yass is a forthcoming queer social club with networking events, a rooftop bar, and a cloud of controversy. As the Guardian reports, Yass is financed by FF Angel, a part of the San Francisco-based venture capital firm Founders Fund that Peter Thiel co-founded in 2005.
Speaking to the Guardian’s Sam Levin, Mission residents say Thiel’s conservative politics—he was a high-profile donor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—cast a shadow over the progressive, empowering spirit of FF Angel’s new endeavor. Longtime residents of the Mission, a historically Latino neighborhood, are being pushed out due to rising housing prices. Add to that Trump’s abysmal record on gay rights and overt hostility toward Latinos, and a Thiel-linked venture’s arrival in the Mission carries with it a bitter irony.
“Conservatives like Thiel are at the center of a movement that really doesn’t support queer communities. There’s some irony from trying to then profit from queer communities,” Andrew Jolivette, a San Francisco native and Native American studies professor, told the Guardian.
Though it’s now popular net-speak, “Yass” is actually decades-old vocabulary originating from the Black and Latino queer communities that once populated places like the Mission, Castro, and New York’s Harlem neighborhood. Once transgressive and niche, the term became untethered to the specifics of its non-white, non-straight past as its use broadened.
“This is Gay Inc 2.0 where now we’re not only sort of commercializing gay community and spaces, now we … take their expressions and their terminology,” Jolivette said.
Yass founder and CEO Brian Tran envisions Yass as an inclusive and empowering workspace and denied to the paper that its presence “exacerbates” the problem of gentrification in the Mission. Tran plans a mentorship program for Yass and says monthly membership dues will be on a sliding scale, as low as $50 for students and those in lower-earning industries.
Yass is still months from its grand opening, but the many intersecting issues complicating its launch—gentrification, racism, wealth, and history—are essential parts of queer history and the new neighborhood models being created in the wake of Silicon Valley.