Cooper Do-nuts Riot

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A Cooper Do-nuts location pictured in 1961

The Cooper Do-nuts Riot was a May 1959 incident in Los Angeles in which transgender women, lesbian women, drag queens, and gay men rioted, one of the first LGBT uprisings in the United States.[1] The incident was sparked by police harassment of LGBT people at a 24-hour Cooper Do-nuts cafe.


The cafe was located on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles between two gay bars, Harold’s and the Waldorf,[2] and was a popular hangout for transgender people.[3][4][5] There had been many LGBT customers at Cooper's taken into custody before, and on the day of the riot, two police officers entered the cafe and asked patrons for ID as Los Angeles law dictated at the time that if a person's gender presentation did not match the gender shown on their ID they were taken to jail.[6] The officers attempted to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man.[7] One of those arrested was novelist John Rechy, who wrote of the event in his novel City of Night. In his novel, Rechy describes the victims of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse on this night as a culmination of routine targeting of the LGBTQ community.[8]

After the detainees protested the lack of room in the police car, onlookers began throwing coffee, cups, and trash at the police until they fled without them in their car.[9] People then took to rioting in the streets and police backup arrived blocking off the street for the entire night and arresting several people.[1][10] The Cooper Do-Nuts uprising is believed to be the first gay uprising in the United States.[1][2] 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."[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Moffitt, Evan (31 May 2015). "10 Years Before Stonewall, There Was the Cooper's Donuts Riot". Out Magazine. Here Media Inc. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  2. ^ 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. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-465-02288-5.
  3. ^ Faderman, Lillian; Timmons, Stuart (2 October 2006). Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books. pp. 1–8. ISBN 046502288X. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  4. ^ "Milestones in the American Transgender Movement". New York Times. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  5. ^ Villarreal, Daniel (2011-10-07). "Before Stonewall, There Was The Cooper's Donuts And Compton's Cafeteria Riots". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  6. ^ Avery, Dan. "5 Pre-Stonewall Events That Shaped the LGBT Community: Trailblazers". New Now Next. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  7. ^ 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 9 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Queer history was made at Cooper's Donuts in Los Angeles | Q Voice News". Q Voice News. 2018-05-03. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Faderman, Lillian (27 September 2016). The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (Reprint ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 115–116. ISBN 1451694121. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  11. ^ "Los Angeles' Cooper Donuts gay riots sparked a revolution 10 years before Stonewall - The Pride LA". The Pride LA. 2016-09-30. Retrieved 2018-07-20.