SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- For the past 24 years, Larry Hashbarger and his team at AsiaSF have provided evenings of entertainment in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood for people from all over the world.
"I'm very proud of AsiaSF and what we've created over the years," he said.
While people enjoy the food and drinks, they're really there for the cabaret starring transgender performers.
"I'm so proud that we have a business model that is successful but also makes a difference in the world," Hashbarger said.
Hashbarger is a longtime fixture in San Francisco's nightlife community and he says he had his lightbulb moment for AsiaSF in the 1990s.
"I came up with this idea of doing a place that would have entertainment that would feature transgender women but would also be a great place to really celebrate human diversity," he said. "The idea that anybody could come and enjoy being who they are, living their authentic life, living their truth -- which is really the path to great happiness in life."
But he didn't just want to entertain. He wanted to build a safe space for transgender people to work and thrive, during a time where that was hard to come by.
"It was a different world," he said. "It was very groundbreaking because there traditionally have not been a lot of employment opportunities for the trans community because of discrimination and a lack of knowledge about the community."
Over the last 24 years, he has provided opportunities for around 100 transgender women, such as Trina Jo, who's been by his side since the very beginning.
"Meeting Larry opened up this whole new other world," Jo said. "Larry treated us as, basically, just another woman seeking a job. I said 'Yeah! I want to be a part of this!' and to be openly accepted. What a burden off your back, you know? And to be employed. That made a big, big difference."
And, 24 years later, AsiaSF continues to make a difference.
"I'm making money, I have employment and it's just being me living as me," Jo said. "No one else."
Hashbarger hopes AsiaSF can help break down barriers.
"Transgender folks -- they're just like all of us. They have the same hopes and desires and dreams that we have for our lives. They're no different," he said. "Many times, whatever lack of knowledge you might have or your fears about that, all dissipate because you've had that one-on-one experience."
Hashbarger says there is still a long way to go however he feels inspired by the younger generations whenever they experience AsiaSF.
"When I look at those young people and I see how accepting they are of other lifestyles and it's really the fabric and part of their DNA, I know that, ultimately, we'll be okay," he said. "So, I feel proud that AsiaSF has really been on the forefront in trying to cultivate that kind of an environment and put that message out there to the world."
He hopes to continue to be on the forefront of empowering people to celebrate who they are and to live their authentic lives.
"Supporting the trans community is a good thing for our country and embracing diversity only makes you better as a person," he said. "I hope that we're around for another 25 years and that we can continue to share that message."
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