Compton's Cafeteria riot
The Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.[note 1]
Compton's Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Tenderloin location of Compton's at 101 Taylor Street (at Turk)—open from 1954 to 1972—was one of the few places where transgender people could congregate publicly in the city, because they were unwelcome in gay bars. In addition, the cafeteria was open all hours until the riots occurred. Most of the fights occurred from 2-3 am so they were forced to close at midnight. Because cross-dressing was illegal at the time, police could use the presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar.
Many of the militant hustlers and street queens involved in the riot were members of Vanguard, the first known gay youth organization in the United States, which had been organized earlier that year with the help of radical ministers working with Glide Memorial Church, a center for progressive social activism in the Tenderloin for many years. A lesbian group of street people was also formed called the Street Orphans.
Cause of the riot
In the 1960s the Compton’s Cafeteria staff began to call the police to crack down on transgender individuals, who would frequent the restaurant. In response to police arrests, the transgender community launched a picket of Compton’s Cafeteria. Although the picket was unsuccessful, it was one of the first demonstrations against transgender violence in San Francisco. On the first night of the riot, the management of Compton's called the police when some transgender customers became raucous. In the 50's and 60's police officers were known to mistreat transgender people. When one of these known officers attempted to arrest one of the trans women, she threw her coffee in his face. At that point the riot began, dishes and furniture were thrown, and the restaurant's plate-glass windows were smashed. Police called for reinforcements as the fighting spilled into the street, where a police car had all its windows broken out and a sidewalk newsstand was burned down. The exact date of the riot is unknown because 1960 police records no longer exist and the riot was not covered by newspapers.
The next night, more transgender people, hustlers, Tenderloin street people, and other members of the LGBT community joined in a picket of the cafeteria, which would not allow transgender people back in. The demonstration ended with the newly installed plate-glass windows being smashed again.
Effects of the riot
In the aftermath of the riot at Compton's, a network of transgender social, psychological, and medical support services was established, which culminated in 1968 with the creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit [NTCU], the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.
Serving as an overseer to the NTCU was Sergeant Elliott Blackstone, designated in 1962 as the first San Francisco Police Department liaison to what was then called the "homophile community." According to Susan Stryker, Compton’s Cafeteria riot was “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history." Transgender people finally stood up to the abuse and discrimination by police officers. The riot "did not solve the problems that transgender people in the Tenderloin faced daily", but prompted the city to begin addressing them as citizens rather than as a problem to be removed. Police brutality towards them decreased over time, and they had less fear of being heckled by the police department for dressing how they chose during the daytime.
- A smaller-scale riot broke out in 1959 in Los Angeles, when the drag queens and street hustlers who hung out at Cooper's Donuts and who were frequently harassed by the LAPD fought back after police arrested three people, including John Rechy. Patrons began pelting the police with donuts and coffee cups. The LAPD called for back-up and arrested a number of rioters. Rechy and the other two original detainees were able to escape. Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-465-02288-X
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- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (documentary film by Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker, 2005)
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- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria. 2005. Film.
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- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria at the Internet Movie Database
- San Francisco Chronicle: Pride parade salute for an unlikely ally; Police officer who reached out in 1960s to be grand marshal
- USA TODAY: As gay pride hits stride, transgenders find more acceptance