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The Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was the first recorded transgender riot in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City by three years.
Compton's Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Compton's in the Tenderloin—which was 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 at that time. 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 down.
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
On the first night of the riot, the management of Compton's called the police when some transgender customers became raucous. When a police officer accustomed to manhandling the Compton's clientele attempted to arrest one of the transwomen, 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 next night, more transgendered people, hustlers, Tenderloin street people, as well as other members of the LGBT community joined in a picket of the cafeteria, which would not allow transgendered 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, the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.
Although the riot was a turning point for the transgender community in San Francisco, for 40 years, it was an almost-forgotten incident. This was remedied by the documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria, which premiered during the 2005 Frameline Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. 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. Sgt. Blackstone, who retired from the police department in 1975, was among those honored during the commemoration.
- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (2005) at IMDB
- CBS NEWS VIDEO: 1966 Gay Riots In SF
- GAY: San Francisco transgender activists reclaim queer history
- Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot Online
- PLANETOUT: Historic 1966 transgender riot remembered
- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Pride parade salute for an unlikely ally Police officer who reached out in 1960s to be grand marshal
- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria
- TRANNY TALK: Video of 40th Anniversary Commemoration
- USA TODAY: As gay pride hits stride, transgendered find more acceptance
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