Cooper Do-nuts Riot

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Cooper Do-nuts Riot
Part of events leading to the
Gay liberation movement
A black and white photograph of Cooper Donuts, with several men sitting with their back to glass doors. Text painted on the window reads "A cup of delicious coffee and fresh donut, 10 cents"
A Cooper Do-nuts location in 1961
DateMay 1959
Cooper Do-nuts, Los Angeles, USA
GoalsGay liberation and LGBT rights in the United States
Parties to the civil conflict
Los Angeles Police Department
Patrons of Cooper Do‑nuts cafe

The Cooper Do-nuts Riot was a small uprising in response to police harassment of LGBT people at the 24-hour Cooper Do-nuts cafe in Los Angeles in May 1959. This occurred 10 years prior to the better-known Stonewall riots in New York City and is viewed by some historians[1] as the first modern LGBT uprising in the United States.


Few people lived openly as LGBT in the 1950s, and faced both social and legal consequences if they did. One of the few places they were welcome were gay bars, which themselves often faced legal consequences for serving them, such as the loss of their license. Los Angeles law made it illegal for a person's gender presentation not to match the gender shown on their ID, and this was often used to target and arrest transgender or cross-dressing bar patrons.[2] For this reason, many gay bars were hostile to transgender patrons and banned or discouraged them from entering.[3]

Novelist John Rechy, who was present at the riot, described the routine arrests in his 1963 novel, City of Night: "They interrogate you, fingerprint you without booking you: an illegal L.A. cop-tactic to scare you from hanging around."[4] The names of individuals arrested in a bar raid would routinely be reported by local newspapers, outing them to the community, usually resulting in the loss of jobs and being socially ostracized. Arrests by the Los Angeles Police Department for homosexuality had increased by more than 85% in the previous decade under the police chief William H. Parker.[5] Queer activist Harry Hay later recalled that abuse of LGBT people by police was common during this time, and sometimes met resistance.[6]


Cooper Do-nuts was a café on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood. Located between two gay bars – Harold's and The Waldorf – and open all night, it was a popular hangout for gay people, and welcomed them.[7][8][5] One evening in May 1959, two police officers entered the cafe and asked for IDs from several patrons, a typical form of harassment. The officers attempted to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a young man cruising for a date.[9] One person they attempted to arrest was Rechy, who describes the LAPD's abuse on this night as a culmination of routine targeting of the LGBTQ community.[10]

One of those arrested protested the lack of room in the police car for all five of them, and onlookers began throwing assorted coffee, donuts, cups, and trash at the police until they fled in their car without making the arrests.[3] People then took to rioting and celebrating in the streets, as a larger crowd grew as patrons of surrounding gay bars and others in the area heard about it.[5] Police backup arrived, blocking off the street for the entire night; they beat or arrested several people.[11] Rechy was still slated for arrest, but escaped.[5]


The Cooper Do-nuts uprising is often cited as the first gay uprising in the United States.[1] Hay identified it as the first specifically against police treatment of LGBT people.[6] Some historians contest the significance, claiming that anyone who was openly gay at the time was already in rebellion and risking arrest and imprisonment.[citation needed] Mark Thompson, a historian who lived in the same area as Rechy, wrote: "I would not describe it as a riot but more like an isolated patch of local social unrest that had lasting repercussions. I think less in its day, more as a lesson for us today."[12]

In 2020 the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council considered making Cooper Do-nuts a historical site and requested police records to corroborate Rechy's account of the riots. The Los Angeles Police Department revealed that there were no records from that time, because they were either "purged or destroyed".[13] Despite not being a first person account, Nancy Valverde claims she had heard about it from a lesbian friend and that she had heard about it right away.[14]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Faderman, Lillian; Timmons, Stuart (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York, NY: Basic Books. pp. 2. ISBN 978-0-465-02288-5.
  2. ^ Avery, Dan. "5 Pre-Stonewall Events That Shaped the LGBT Community: Trailblazers". New Now Next. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Lilly, Christiana (September 30, 2016). "Los Angeles' Cooper Donuts gay riots sparked a revolution 10 years before Stonewall". The Pride LA. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  4. ^ James, Scott (June 20, 2019). "What Was Your Stonewall? Pivotal L.G.B.T.Q. Moments Across the U.S." The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d "Cooper Do-nuts | ONE Archives". Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Moffitt, Evan (May 31, 2015). "Today in Gay History: 10 Years Before Stonewall, There Was the Cooper's Donuts Riot". Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  7. ^ Faderman, Lillian; Timmons, Stuart (October 2, 2006). Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. pp. 1–8. ISBN 046502288X. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  8. ^ "Opinion | Milestones in the American Transgender Movement". The New York Times. May 18, 2015. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  9. ^ Springate, Megan E. (2016). LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History (PDF). National Park Foundation. p. 18:29. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  10. ^ "Queer history was made at Cooper's Donuts in Los Angeles | Q Voice News". Q Voice News. May 3, 2018. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  11. ^ Faderman, Lillian (September 27, 2016). The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (Reprint ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-1451694123. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  12. ^ "Los Angeles' Cooper Donuts gay riots sparked a revolution 10 years before Stonewall - The Pride LA". The Pride LA. September 30, 2016. Retrieved July 20, 2018.
  13. ^ "LGBTQ History in Los Angeles: Cooper Do-Nuts and Black Cat Tavern". Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  14. ^ Stuart, Gwynedd (May 29, 2019). "Before Stonewall, the Queer Revolution Started Right Here in Los Angeles". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved April 27, 2022.