Yass, or as most of us know it, yassssss, is a way to express agreeability as an exclamation. It’s an integral part of Black and Latino queer language, one that has been co-opted for popular culture and used by the masses. Though it’s never acceptable when culture is used without credit, we’re not surprised when culture vultures swoop in when the getting’s good. But a new San Francisco-based startup is taking it to a whole new level.
Come Spring, Yass, a new LGBTQ social club and workspace, will open in San Francisco’s historic Mission neighborhood. It’s billed as “a headquarters and hangout for today’s generation of queer people to bring out the best in each other.” Memberships will range from $50, for students and people in lower-paying industries, to $300.
Renderings of the space show an expansive sun deck, complete with modern furniture, and a sleekly designed exterior. It evokes WeWork, if those spaces were designed by the Fab Five.
On the surface, this seems great—a new workspace cultivated specifically for our community. But a closer look raises some red flags.
The number one problem? The name. Similar to controversial startup Bodega, which aimed to replace community convenience stores with glamorized vending machines, Silicon Valley has shown yet again that it has no qualms about lifting a defining characteristic from a culture and repackaging it as a shiny, new business. The term yass was born in ball culture, and as it stands, the vogue scene is still a niche that belongs to us. To take this name and use it for something that has nothing to do with its origin speaks volumes.
Also like Bodega, which brings us to problem number two, Yass doesn’t take into account that the people who inspired the name will likely be displaced by the business or unable to access its privilege. San Francisco’s Mission District is a historically Latino neighborhood that has fallen victim to gentrification thanks to the everlasting tech boom. The opening of Yass will continue the erasure of this neighborhood’s culture, by bringing in more affluent residents and excluding those who’ve looked to the area for lower rents and a sense of community.
But problem number three is the biggest. Yass is backed by Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who famously donated $1.25 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Thiel is an out gay man, whose politics are conservative and controversial within the LGBTQ community. He’s helped to fund an administration that continues to disenfranchise us and erase our progress. Thus, why create a safe space for queer people in San Francisco when you’ve supported a President who won’t do the same for queer folks around the nation?
Perhaps what’s most disconcerting about it all is that a noble cause lies at the heart of Yass. Providing a members-only workspace for LGBTQ professionals is a progressive idea, and it’s most certainly something we need during these times. But will people recognize that with the controversy surrounding it? (The Guardian and Gizmodo were quick to point out Yass’ flaws in early December.) Is it necessary to sacrifice culture, community, and values for the sake of a high-end, inclusive workspace?
Yass is scheduled to open sometime this Spring. So, it’s unclear how the space will be received once it’s open to the public. Local SF activists are not big fans, and the simmering disapproval could bubble over once its first memberships are sold.
We need spaces like Yass, but without the cultural appropriation and with the consideration for the true needs of the community. Hopefully, Yass inspires other queer entrepreneurs to open similar spaces for those who really need them, and to do so in an authentic and meaningful way.
Photo: courtesy of The Guardian