$10,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion
STORY - Aria Sa'id, a 28-year-old black transgender woman, fixes her hair on the morning of Tuesday, June 5. Aria transitioned 11 years ago, and her experiences have shaped her work and identity to this day. "My conviction at that time, at 17, was to 'Live my life on my terms, or suicide,' because I was suicidal before my transition. I did not feel like my body was congruent to who I knew myself to be. It was a consistent experience ever since I was three. I think there was a thirst to prove myself as authentic, because it always felt like people did not see me as authentic," Aria said.
Assorted makeup sits on a table in Aria Sa'id's studio apartment in Oakland. She wanted to pursue a career in visual merchandising or retail at one point, and has always had a taste for fashion and products, but didn't always have the means to afford high-end products.
Aria Sa'id sits on her bed and picks out music on the morning of Tuesday, June 5. Aria prefers to keep music on when she is in her apartment to feel less alone, but considers herself somewhat of an introvert and needs some time away from people. In public, she often talks about the experience of being trans, but doesn't consider that as much at home. During speaking engagements, she often jokes, "I don't get into my trans shower and take a trans nap and get into my transgender bed."
Aria Sa'id is pictured in a recent edition of SF Weekly along with other activists advocating for the preservation of historic LGBT-owned bars and restaurants. As developers descend on LGBT communities, they sometimes push out the businesses that have been there the longest and are detrimental to preserving history. "I have to do my due diligence to represent my community in the best way possible," Aria said. "I didn't sign up to be an activist at all Ð I wanted to be a visual merchandiser." She continues to use her platform to be an advocate for other trans women and minorities, even though she did not always aspire to be an activist.
Aria Sa'id and Vanessa Warri ride the F-line through San Francisco on Monday, June 4. The two friends have a long history, first meeting at a homeless shelter and sleeping across from each other at age 19. Throughout those years, Vanessa has proven to be one of Aria's closest friends and allies, sharing their experiences as trans women together.
Aria Sa'id walks near San Francisco City Hall on her way to receive a 10-year service award from the mayor's office. Aria first came to San Francisco looking for acceptance when she was 19. She was homeless with her boyfriend for over a year, and eventually turned to sex work such as prostitution to make ends meet, often sleeping on the BART at night. "It's both traumatic story and a coming of age tale, of sorts," Aria said. "Being homeless in SF taught me how to survive in the streets and the world. That, paired with my foundation of my upbringing, helped me be the person I am."
Aria Sa'id is flanked by politicians and guests of honor at a pride month ceremony hosted by the mayor of San Francisco. When Aria looked out at the crowd, she barely saw anyone who shared her skin color and felt uncomfortable standing in front of the room. In addition, interim Mayor Mark Farrell did not mention Aria among the others he introduced during the ceremony.
Aria Sa'id talks with Jason Pellegrini, a commissioner on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, before accepting a 10-year service award from the mayor's office for her activism ranging from the local level all the way up to the state level.
Aria Sa'id accepts a 10-year service award from the mayor's office and gives a speech about her experiences that made her who she is today. Aria was instrumental in helping to pass two laws at the state level to help break down barriers for trans people. SB-310 allows trans people in jail, as well as others, to change their name and gender. SB-179 allows individuals to self-identify their gender for government identification purposes rather than getting a note from a doctor.
Aria Sa'id spends time with her friends Luna Salemme, center, and Vanessa Warri at the St. James Infirmary. St. James helps provide assistance to sex workers, and is an organization that Aria has worked with over the years. "Most of the work I've done has really been inspired by my own experiences," Aria said.
Aria Sa'id is reflected in the window of a shop on Maiden Lane. When Aria was homeless and doing sex work, she would often wander up and down Maiden Lane, admiring the shops and wishing she could someday shop in such places. "I would walk up and down Maiden Lane and just pray that my life would change," Aria said. "I just didn't know that I had to put the work in to get it there."
Aria Sa'id smokes a cigarette while talking to her friend Vanessa Warri while sitting at Union Square. "When I was homeless, sometimes I would go down to Union Square and just pray that something would change," Aria said. "I would sit there in the middle of the day and I would people watch and write on napkins or paper bags from the corner store." She compared her situation then to that of the Little Mermaid, wishing she could be "where the people are," shopping at fancy stores and living their best lives.
Aria Sa'id marches down the street with her friend Vanessa Warri and other women who were at the pride ceremony at the mayor's office. They jokingly started an impromptu "protest" to celebrate the start of pride month, suggesting that LGBT members had made important strides, but that there's still along way to go. "I'm in such a tricky space because I talk about my experience of being homeless but that was years ago. My reality has significantly changed," Aria said. "I live a very charmed life compared to most of my sisters. I've traveled the world, I make six figures. I get awards and get to consult for multinational organizations and stuff like that. I don't take that for granted in any way, but it's very hard to also hop back to a space I was at 19 and I'm almost 30."
SINGLE - San Francisco mayoral candidate Mark Leno, a former California state senator, speaks out regarding the Supreme Court's decision to side with a Colorado baker who denied a gay couple a wedding cake from his bakery. If elected, Leno would be the first openly gay mayor. While speaking at a press conference at Harvey Milk Plaza on Monday, June 4, Leno said, "I want to make it clear how painful it is to our community that we are treated differently. I would make the case that if we put any other protected class in the United States in this case, we wouldn't be here today."