Since this month is Pride Month and next Sunday is Pride Day, it seems only appropriate to pay a tribute to a Tenderloin event that marked a turning point in the San Francisco LGBT movement: the Gene Compton’s Cafeteria riot in August 1966. Although the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City are generally considered the starting point of the modern gay liberation movement, this incident is considered to be the first recorded transgender riot in United States history.
From the Wikipedia entry: Compton’s Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias owned by Gene Compton, and the San Francisco branch was located at 101 Taylor Street at the corner with Turk, and it was open from 1954 to 1972. The Compton’s Cafeteria was one of the few places where transgender people could congregate publicly in the city, because at the time they were unwelcome in gay bars. Because cross-dressing was illegal, police could use the presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar down.
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 transgender people, hustlers, Tenderloin street people, and other members of the LGBT community joined in a picket of the cafeteria, which would not allow transgender people back in. The demonstration ended with the newly installed plate-glass windows being smashed again.
Although the riot was a turning point for the transgender community in San Francisco, for 40 years, it was an almost-forgotten incident until the documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, came out in June 2005. Here you can watch a clip of the movie:
On June 22, 2006, forty years after the riots, 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 decorated by a beautiful mural. The text in the plaque, pictured at the beginning of this post, reads this:
Here marks the site of Gene Compton’s Cafeteria where a riot took place one August night when transgender women and gay men stood up for their rights and fought against police brutality, poverty, oppression and discrimination in the Tenderloin: We, the transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual community, are dedicating this plaque to these heroes of our civil rights movement.