*originally posted October 2, 2009
In the LGBT community, Stonewall is often seen as the turning point in the fight for LGBT rights. But, actually, there was another riot, on the other coast, about three years earlier. It was known as the Compton's Cafeteria Riot and it occurred in the summer of 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
George Compton owned several cafeterias in San Francisco from the 40s through the 70s, but it was the Comptons in the Tenderloin where many transgendered people would gather. In those days--the 40s, 50s, and 60s--transgendered people were unwelcome in gay bars, so they began to meet at other places throughout the city. Since the cafeteria was open 24-hours, it made the perfect meeting spot.
At that time, transgendered people were commonly referred to by themselves, other gays, and non-gays as Hair Fairies, and because cross-dressing was illegal at the time, police could use the mere presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar down. However, like Stonewall, this hot summer night in 1966 would prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
That night, police were called to Comptons because, allegedly, a group of transgendered people were being especially boisterous. The management felt they needed to go, and called the police. One officer, accustomed to manhandling transgendered people, attempted to arrest a transgendered woman. Well, she wasn't having it, and she threw her coffee in the officer's face. It was on. Dishes and food were thrown; furniture was upended. The large plate glass window that fronted Taylor Street was shattered. As police called for reinforcements, the riot spilled out into the street where a newsstand was set on fire and a police car had all its windows broken. Many were arrested that night, but like Stonewall, it wasn't over.
The next evening more transgendered people showed up at Comptons, along with many men and women in the gay community. Militant hustlers and street queens, members of Vanguard, the first known gay youth organization in the United States, which had been organized with the help of radical ministers at Glide Memorial Church, came along as well. A lesbian group of street people, the Street Orphans, also went to Comptons that night.
It was a more civil demonstration that second night, with the community simply picketing the cafeteria whose new policy was not to allow transgendered people service. As it became apparent that their quiet march was getting them nowhere, the group, before disbanding, shattered the newly installed plate-glass windows again.
The Compton Cafeteria riots were a big deal in San Francisco in the 60s, but have been largely forgotten over these last forty years. It wasn't until a documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria, that the story was reborn, and retold. On June 22, 2006, a memorial plaque was placed in the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria site, which is now the Oshun Center, a free clinic for women.
It may not have been as big as Stonewall, but it was just as important.
On This Day In LGBT History
October 2, 1650 – The Plymouth colony court found Sara Norman guilty of lewd behavior on a bed with Mary Hammon. She was given a warning and ordered to publicly acknowledge her unchaste behavior. (The death penalty in Plymouth applied only to sex between men.)
October 2, 1973 – Dr Howard Brown, former New York City health administrator, came out. He later became director of the National Gay Task Force.
October 2, 1985 – Actor Rock Hudson died of complications from AIDS. His death resulted in greater attention to the AIDS epidemic.
October 2, 1987 – The Minnesota Supreme Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s sodomy law, which allowed the law to remain on the books.
October 2, 1987 – Commissioner John Markl of Traverse City Michigan resigned after Cindy and Dean Robb organized a petition campaign to demand that he be recalled after making homophobic remarks. The couple called his resignation a victory for civil and human rights. According to Dean Robb, nearly all of the volunteers he and his wife organized to get signatures were heterosexual.
October 2, 1990 – Metropolitan police met with members of the London direct action group OutRage to discuss their concerns after several actions directed at UK law enforcement agencies.
October 2, 1997 – “Variety” objected to the Motion Picture Association of America’s decision to give the movie “Bent” an NC-17 rating, pointing out that the sex scenes were far less graphic than heterosexual sex scenes in movies which receive R ratings.
October 2, 1999 - California governor Gray Davis signed three gay rights bills.