Compton’s Cafeteria Riot

920x920Alright, let’s talk about the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, which took place in August of 1966 in San Francisco. At the time, transgender people were not welcome in gay bars because the police were able to use the presence of cross-dressing individuals as probable cause in order to raid a bar — and also because, let’s face it, there is *still* transphobia in the LGBTQ+ community. So instead of going to gay bars, the transgender community of San Francisco frequented one of Gene Compton’s Cafeterias, this one located at 101 Taylor Street. (The cafeteria there closed its doors in 1972.)

Before the riot, the police began to crack down on the presence of transgender people at the cafeteria. In response, the transgender community — as well as a lesbian organization called the Street Orphans (essentially a lesbian street gang) and a gay youth group called the Vanguard — put together a picket outside of Compton’s Cafeteria. This was possibly the first organized protest about the violence directed towards transgender people by the police.

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On the first night of the picket, the restaurant employees called the police as the protesters apparently had become loud and disruptive. The police arrived and attempted to arrest one of the transgender women protesting. She threw her coffee in his face. This was all it took — the peaceful protest instantly transformed into a riot. Although we as a community had moved past using donuts as weapons (as in the Cooper’s Donuts riot), we were not above using dishes and furniture. The plate glass windows of the restaurant were smashed, and the fighting moved into the street. A police car had all of its windows smashed, and a nearby newsstand was set on fire.

Although the riot dispersed, Compton’s Cafeteria refused to allow transgender people into the restaurant anymore. This led to another picket and their brand new windows being smashed again. Ultimately, the restaurant decided that it would be better to just close up shop at midnight instead of being open at all hours and have to refuse service to anyone. Probably a smart move if they, y’know, wanted to have glass windows.

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The date in August of the riot is unclear — the police records have apparently been lost and the entire event was wholly ignored by even the local media. Despite not knowing the exact date of the riot, a historical marker was placed at the location on June 22, 2006.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)

Cooper’s Do-nuts

Pretty much everyone knows about Stonewall, but the LGBTQ+ community has been rioting since a lot longer than 1969. Let’s talk about the Cooper’s Do-nuts Riot.

Picture it: It’s the end of the 1950’s. It’s a simpler time — but things are changing. Despite that fact, minorities — especially LGBTQ+ people — are still cowering in fear from police and never fighting back.

And boy are they fearful in Los Angeles. William H. Parker became the chief of the LAPD in 1950, and decided to make stamping out sexual perversion his number one priority. Arrests for homosexuality increased by more than 85% in the following decade. Because the police tended to target transgender people — who often stood out more — most LA gay bars had tried to stop the police from raiding them by banning anyone who’s perceived gender wasn’t in line with the sex on their driver’s license. That’s right — gay bars with no drag queens! Boring.

CooperDonuts-from-TheExilesNow, on Main Street there was a 24 hour donut shop called Cooper’s Do-nuts. (Yeah, they hyphenated the word “donut” and yeah, I’m annoyed about it. Even though I’m sure it’s grammatically correct.) I haven’t been able to find the exact address which is a total shame because I really want to know what’s there now. During the day, it was a popular hangout for cops — but when the sun went down, it became a hangout for people who had nowhere else to go at night: mainly transgender people and sex workers.

CityofNightRechyOne night in May of 1959 a few cops came by — or possibly stayed late, I’m not really clear on that — and decided to check everyone’s IDs to make sure their perceived gender matched their legal gender. One man present was a young gay man named John Rechy who would later include this incident in his novel City of Night. The police arrested two gay male sex workers, two drag queens, and a “young man just cruising”. One of those five people objected to having all five of them shoved into the back of one police car — and that was the spark that set it off.

The other customers of the donut shop went out into the street — hurling anything they could get their hands on at the police. Coffee cups, napkins, paper plates, donuts — yeah, donuts can be a weapon if you’re queer — and just general trash. The police escaped and came back with reinforcements. They shut down Main Street, but the protesters didn’t care — by this point the crowd had grown; they were simultaneously rioting and dancing in the street. Though the police made a lot of arrests, the street was still shut down for the better part of the day until the crowd dispersed.

This was the first time the LGBTQ+ community in the United States rioted. As we all know, it wouldn’t be the last.

(*Heavily* adapted from this Facebook post.)