Compton's Cafeteria riot

Compton's Cafeteria riot
Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot 40th Anniversary Historical Marker at corner of Taylor and Turk in San Francisco

The Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.[note 1]



Compton's Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Tenderloin location of Compton's at 101 Taylor Street (at Turk)—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. In addition, the cafeteria was open all hours until the riots occurred. Back then, trangender people were commonly referred to as Hair Fairies. 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.

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.[1]

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 trans women, 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.[citation needed]

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.[1]

Effects of the riot

The riot marked a turning point in the local LGBT movement. According to the online encyclopedia[2]

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 [NTCU], the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.

Serving as an overseer to the NTCU was Sergeant Elliott Blackstone, designated in 1962 as the first San Francisco Police Department liaison to what was then called the "homophile community."

See also

  • List of pre-Stonewall LGBT actions in the United States


  1. ^ A smaller-scale riot broke out in 1959 in Los Angeles, when the drag queens and street hustlers who hung out at Cooper's Donuts and who were frequently harassed by the LAPD fought back after police arrested three people, including John Rechy. Patrons began pelting the police with donuts and coffee cups. The LAPD called for back-up and arrested a number of rioters. Rechy and the other two original detainees were able to escape (Faderman and Timmons, pp. 1–2).


  1. ^ a b Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (documentary film by Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker, 2005)
  2. ^ glbtq >> social sciences >> San Francisco

External links

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