Black Cat Tavern
|The Black Cat|
|Location||3909 W. Sunset Blvd.|
|Architectural style(s)||Art Deco|
The Black Cat Tavern was an LGBT bar located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silver Lake district in Los Angeles, California. It was the site of one of the first riots in the United States protesting police harassment of LGBT people, and it preceded the Stonewall riots by over two years.
Moreover, the police raids and the subsequent protests at the Black Cat Tavern can be understood within the spatial and temporal context of the Sunset Strip curfew riots that took place during the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Individuals protesting police raids spawned by homophobic sentiment were urged by speakers to make a "[...] unified community stand in Silver Lake against police brutality." In other words, the riot at the Black Cat Tavern became a platform to discuss intersectional issues relating to the criminal justice system.
According to Tangents – a local gay newspaper – “The Black Cat was happy and hooping” before undercover police arrived and started beating patrons as they were ringing in the New Year: "There were colored balloons covering the ceiling ... and three glittering Christmas trees." Moments later, “all hell broke loose.”  After arresting several patrons for kissing as they celebrated the occasion, the undercover police officers began beating several of the patrons and ultimately arrested fourteen patrons for “assault and public lewdness." The police used deliberate and excessive force during the raid to carry out explicitly homophobic state legislation that prevented queer folks from (1) kissing and/or engaging in any sexual acts, and (2) wearing clothing that did not match their socially prescribed gender role. For example, one of the patrons was aggressively beaten in the head by a cop wielding a pool cue.
This created a riot in the immediate area that expanded to include the bar across Sanborn Avenue called New Faces, where officers knocked down the owner, a woman, and beat two bartenders unconscious.
Several days later, this police action incited a civil demonstration of 200 attendees to protest the raids on February 11, 1967. The demonstration was organized by a group called PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) – founded by Steve Ginsberg – and the SCCRH (Southern California Council on Religion and Homophile). The protest was met by squadrons of armed policemen.
Two of the men arrested for kissing were later convicted under California Penal Code Section 647 and registered as sex offenders. The men appealed, asserting their right of equal protection under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case. However, there were fundraising efforts that reached New York and San Francisco for the six convicted patrons – including Benny Baker and Charles Talley.
In addition, it was from this event that the publication The Advocate began as a newspaper for PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education). Together the raid on the Black Cat Tavern and later the raid on The Patch in August 1968 inspired the formation of the Metropolitan Community Church (led by Pastor Troy Perry).
After operating as a gay bar under several names (most recently Le Barcito catering to the Latino community), in November 2012 the site became a restaurant and bar named The Black Cat in memory of the earlier establishment. The new Black Cat caters to a general clientele, and there are photographs of the events of 1967 displayed inside.
In their seminal essay, "Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth," Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Suzanna M. Crage examine "[...] why the Stonewall riots became central to gay collective memory while other events did not." LGBT academics continue to challenge the novelty of events at the Stonewall Inn by pointing to critical moments in LGBT history that took place before 1969.
Historians of sexuality have detailed the significance of the Black Cat Tavern riots within the context of the mainstream LGBT Movement. Yet, the demonstrations never caught the attention of the popular media, and the Black Cat did not assume the role in queer history attributed to the Stonewall Rebellion two and a half years later.
The popular notion that the Stonewall Riots marked the very first time that LGBT folks "[...] fought back instead of passively enduring humiliating treatment," is false. Other critical moments in LGBT History that pre-date Stonewall include:
- New Year's Ball Raid in San Francisco (1965)
- Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot (1966)
- Cooper Do-nuts Riot (1959)
- California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
- List of LGBT actions in the United States prior to the Stonewall riots
- Department of City Planning. "Designated Historic-Cultural Monuments". City of Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
- Office of Historic Resources, Newsletter, January 2009.
- Gay LA, Page 157, Authors Faderman & Timmons, University of California Press, copyright 2006
- Davis, Mike (2007-01-01). "Riot Nights on Sunset Strip". Labour / Le Travail. 59: 199–214. JSTOR 25149760.
- "Speaking Out". Johnrechy.com. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Baldwin, Belinda. "L.A., 1/1/67: the Black Cat riots." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 13.2 (2006): 28+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
- "Timeline of Homosexual History, 1961 to 1979". Tangentgroup.org. Archived from the original on 2014-05-11. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Press Release regarding the 1966 raid on the Black Cat bar". The Tangent Group. Archived from the original on 2015-04-27. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- 2009 Newsletter.pdf City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning, "Los Angeles’ Newest Historic-Cultural Monuments", January 2009 v.3, no. 1, p. 6. Archived 2014-06-22 at Archive.today
- Gay LA, Page 156, Authors Faderman & Timmons, University of California Press, copyright 2006
- "Fifty years later, Silver Lake tavern stands as a monument to L.A.'s gay rights movement". Los Angeles Times. 2017-02-12. Retrieved 2017-02-15.
- Gay LA, Page 159, Authors Faderman & Timmons, University of California Press, copyright 2006
- Gay LA, Page 163, Authors Faderman & Timmons, University of California Press, copyright 2006
- "Letters from Camp Rehoboth - September 14, 2007 - PAST Out". Archived from the original on May 18, 2008.
- "News article" (print ed.). Los Angeles Times. November 8, 2008.
- "A new (fancy) life for Silver Lake's Black Cat Tavern". The Eastsider LA. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Armstrong, E. A., and S. M. Crage. "Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth." American Sociological Review 71.5 (2006): 724-51. Web.
- Lilly, Christiana (30 September 2016). "Los Angeles' Cooper Donuts gay riots sparked a revolution 10 years before Stonewall". The Pride LA. Retrieved 30 June 2017.