Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Compton's Cafeteria Riot- San Francisco's Stonewall

Another classic post from our archives:

Date: Mon Jul 17, 2006 9:55 pm
Subject: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria- San Francisco's Stonewall

Here's a couple of wonderful articles regarding the riot at Compton's Cafeteria
in San
Francisco n 1966. There's also a gem of a film made to document the event

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria



Screaming Queens: Documentary On the Compton's Cafeteria Uprising
by KQED (reposted)
Sunday Jun 19th, 2005 6:33 PM
Sun, Jun 19, 6:00 pm KQED TV
video: preview-103.rm.ram
RealVideo metafile

It's a hot August night in San Francisco in 1966. Compton's Cafeteria, in the
Tenderloin district, is hopping with its usual assortment of transgender people,
street hustlers, and down-and-out regulars. The management, annoyed by the noisy
crowd at one table, calls the police. When a surly cop, accustomed to
Compton's clientele, attempts to arrest one of the queens, she throws her coffee
in his
face. Mayhem erupts -- windows break, furniture flies through the air. Police
reinforcements arrive, and the fighting spills into the street. For the first
time, the drag
queens band together to fight back, getting the better of the cops, whom they
kick and
stomp with their high-heeled shoes and beat with their heavy purses. For
everyone at
Compton's that night, one thing was certain -- things would never be the same

Screaming Queens introduces viewers to a diverse cast of former prostitutes,
entertainers, police officers, ministers and neighborhood activists, all of whom
played a
part in the events leading up to the Compton's Cafeteria riot. Mixing recent
interviews with
archival footage, printed documents, impressionistic reenactments and period
music, the
program depicts a marginalized community few people know, one that exists in the
of a city famous for its cosmopolitan glamour. With extraordinary candor and
differing points of view, the subjects recount the difficulties they encountered
in the
Tenderloin, as well as the sense of community they created there in the
mid-1960s. Felicia
Elizondo tells of prostituting herself in order to survive. Aleshia Brevard, a
entertainer, describes how her talent spared her from street prostitution.
Perhaps most
surprising is Sgt. Elliot Blackstone, who helps explain the conflict between the
Francisco Police Department and the city's transgender community and how the
policies changed to reflect greater acceptance in the years following the 1966

The documentary goes on to show the connection between transgender activism and
larger social upheavals affecting the United States in the 1960s: the civil
rights and sexual
liberation movements, the youth counterculture, urban renewal, and Great Society
antipoverty programs. "Glide Memorial Methodist Church first reached out to the
transgender community in these years," the Rev. Ed Hansen explains, "because of
thinking about the church's role in society." Amanda St. Jaymes and Tamara
Ching, both
transsexual activists and former prostitutes, recount the ferment in the
Tenderloin in the
1960s as well as the growing sense of dignity among transgender people. But in
summer of 1966, many others, including most San Francisco police officers, did
not share
these new ideas. By bringing these social and political tensions to light,
Screaming Queens
offers viewers a fuller understanding of the events and conditions that led up
to the riot.

Further, Screaming Queens explores the reverberations, both large and small, of
the rise
of transgender activism, a story in which the riot at Compton's Cafeteria plays
a pivotal
role. Sgt. Blackstone tells of singing "We Shall Overcome" with Tenderloin
activists who
successfully fought for new social services for their community. Suzie Cooke
recounts her
job as a transsexual counselor in one of the new agencies founded after the
riot. Ching
connects the Tenderloin transsexuals' new activism to the rising Gay liberation
And St. Jaymes explains that although the queens from Compton's were "wild as
the wind,"
they were "determined to make something of themselves, and be something other

The film ends on a high note. It shows how in just two short years transgender
helped transform San Francisco culture in subtle and profound ways and presents
reflective comments from the Compton's Cafeteria subjects who bravely ushered in
controversial revolution that continues today.

Screaming Queens sets out to foster a better understanding of the experiences of
transgender people and to inform a broad audience of their often-difficult lives
unheralded accomplishments. Along the way, the program also illuminates the
interplay of
urban politics, community mobilization and social services in creating the
modern inner

This important documentary tells a forgotten San Francisco story of dramatic
change from the compelling perspective of firsthand participants. The film's
story focuses
on the experiences of the rioters themselves, the police and the social-activist
members. It also follows historian Susan Stryker's rediscovery of the 1966
disturbance at
Compton's Cafeteria. At that time, transgender people faced serious employment
discrimination, police harassment and other difficulties. The program's subjects
the challenging circumstances and the misconduct of officials that drove them to
militant action in the streets. Screaming Queens then examines the significant
changes --
in police practices, social services and self-image -- that came out of the
conflict. In her
story within the story, Stryker reveals how the Compton's Cafeteria riot,
although not as
large as New York's Stonewall conflict, was a dramatic turning point in a
process of transgender community formation and political mobilization in San
Francisco, a
process that involved dramatic changes in medical practices, urban politics,
geography and public consciousness.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria is produced in association
with The
Independent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED Public Television.




Historic 1966 transgender riot remembered

Larry Buhl, PlanetOut Network

published Thursday, June 22, 2006
A memorial plaque commemorating the 40th anniversary of the first known instance
transgender resistance to police harassment in the United States was installed
at a
ceremony Thursday in San Francisco.

The Compton's Cafeteria riot predated the famous uprising at New York's
Stonewall Inn by
three years.

Although Gene Compton's eatery in the seedy Tenderloin district of San Francisco
was a
haven for gay men, lesbians and transgender people, police harassment was
nonetheless a
common occurrence. On an evening in August, 1966, an officer entered and grabbed
of the "queens," who threw a cup of coffee in his face. Mayhem erupted as drag
kicked the cops with their high-heeled shoes. Rioters smashed windows, broke
and set fire to a car. The event lasted a day, and picketing lasted several more

In the aftermath of the riot, the San Francisco Police Department's community
department began focusing on sensitivity training and brought gays, lesbians and
transgender people into the dialogue, said Cecilia Chung, San Francisco human
commissioner and deputy director of the Transgender Law Center.

"Forty years ago, female impersonation was illegal, and you could even be
arrested for
wearing buttons on the wrong side of your shirt," Chung said. "In many ways, we
attribute our success in the transgender civil rights movement and the larger
movement to our courageous predecessors at Compton's Cafeteria."

A plaque was placed Thursday at the site of the cafeteria at Turk and Taylor
Among those honored at the ceremony were several transgender individuals active
in the
community 40 years ago, and retired police Sgt. Elliott Blackstone, the San
force's first liaison to the LGBT community.

Blackstone, who is straight, has been a longtime ally for gay men, lesbians and
transgender people, and even took up a collection at his church to help
women buy hormones. He will be honored as the lifetime grand marshal at San
Pride on Sunday.

"Unexpected allies, like Sgt. Blackstone, fought by our side against prejudice
and stigma at
a time when our cries seemed to be ignored, and helped to create a ripple of
change," Chung said.

Other speakers at the ceremony included the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide
Memorial Church;
author/activists Leslie Feinberg and Jamison Green; Mara Keisling, executive
director of
the National Center for Transgender Equality, and representatives of the San
mayor's office, Human Rights Commission and Police Commission.

Chung admitted that although there are many strong allies for the transgender
in San Francisco, most of the country lags far behind in the fight for equality.

"We're a historically marginalized group, and although we're seeing the
inclusion of gender
identity in the dialogue, fighting for equality is still very challenging,"
Chung said. "Just
like gays and lesbians, we're one constitutional amendment away from having our



Volume 5, Number 26 | June 29 - July 5, 2006


Recalling a San Francisco Stonewall

Drag queens fought back at a Tenderloin coffee shop in 1966


Felicia Elizondo, a Compton's veteran, spoke at the June 22 dedication about the
she won in the wake of her community's first strike back at police 40 years ago

It was the place, deep in San Francisco's Tenderloin, where gay street hustlers,
queens, and transsexuals could linger over a cup of coffee for hours. At Gene
Cafeteria the food was cheap and the management tolerant. And Compton's was open
Then, back in 1966, there was no such thing as a gay rights movement. The Castro
still a working-class Irish neighborhood, and it would be seven years until
was declassified as a mental disorder. The Tenderloin was the gritty, down and
out part of
the city, heir-apparent to the infamous Barbary Coast, where the city's
castaways could
drift, and the swells could come to slum. "The place to go for sex and drugs and
late night
fun," said historian and filmmaker Susan Stryker.

And Compton's was at its center, the place to meet. But by August 1966, tensions
in the
Tenderloin had been building for years.

Drag queens were routinely harassed and arrested by police—for obstructing the
for loitering, for "same-sex touching," and for cross-dressing. "If the buttons
were on the
wrong side, like a blouse, you could get thrown in jail," recalled one
Tenderloin resident,
Amanda St. Jaymes.

Most of the time they went quietly. "You, you, you, and you," a cop would
remembered Tamara Ching, who was a drag hustler during the period—"come with

"You could be dragged off to jail at any time—for no reason at all."

"They'd drive us all around North Beach. Drive us all around the Tenderloin
before they'd
take us to jail," said St. Jaymes. Once there, they were humiliated. Paraded in
front of the
other prisoners. Their heads shaved. "I refused to let them shave my head, and
they put
me in the hole. One girl was in there 60 days, in the hole, because they
wouldn't let them
cut her hair," she said.

Then, one hot August night, the exact date lost to history, as queens and
hustlers crowded
Compton's booths, a small phalanx of cops entered the teeming restaurant. One
expecting the "girl" to come quietly as the girls always had before, grabbed an
arm. But
this time a cup of coffee flew in his face.

Nightsticks were drawn. Mayhem. For the first time the drag queens fought back.
glass sugar shakers hurled by the queens shattered the restaurant's big
windows. Fighting spilled onto the street. Reinforcements arrived, sirens
blaring. Shocked
cops retreated as they were hit with high-heeled shoes and heavy purses. For a
the drag queens got the better of the cops. The corner newsstand went up in
flames. A
police car was destroyed.

"Years of pent-up resentment boiled out into the night," said Stryker.

Forty years ago this August, three years before very similar riots at New York's
Inn, Stryker says that America's gay rights movement was born, not on
Christopher Street,
with the rebellion commemorated every June in gay pride celebrations across the
but in San Francisco's Tenderloin at Gene Compton's Cafeteria.

"It was the first known instance of collective, militant queer resistance to
harassment in United States history," Stryker said.

"We have an old expression in the police department, `clubs are trump,'"
remembered San
Francisco police Sergeant Elliot Blackstone of the ease with which cops resorted
to their
nightsticks. "Well, clubs were trump then."

"A lot of them went to jail," St. Jaymes said, but added "There was a lot of joy
after it
happened… there was a lot of `I don't give a damn — this is what needs to

Fast forward 40 years.

Another sweltering day in the Tenderloin, this time in June, this time a few
days before San
Francisco's giant pride celebration. The cafeteria closed in 1972, became a porn
emporium, and is now a drop-in help center for the women who still work the
streets of
the Tenderloin.

About 100 gathered on the street corner in front of what was Compton's. In the
dozen or so drag queens, beads of perspiration forming beneath their makeup,
three or
four television news crews, lots of reporters, city bureaucrats stuck to their
suits, two city
supervisors, the district attorney, the gay city treasurer, a mayor's office
aide with a
proclamation declaring it "Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot Day"—all gathered
around a new
granite plaque on the street corner.

"Here marks the site," it says and the crowd ballooned out into the street
around it. But the
cops! There's a full-on lieutenant directing traffic. They stand, at ease, but
perspiring, a
solid line of brass and blue. The chief. Two commanders. "Pretty much the whole
command staff," said Theresa Sparks, a trans member of the Police Commission.

They're there to say a few words, and say it's not like that anymore. It took
until 1997, but
then San Francisco got an ordinance protecting trans people from discrimination.

They're also there to honor Sergeant Blackstone, the LGBT community's first
supporter on
the San Francisco force. He was driven from the department, Stryker said, after
planted narcotics in his desk. Last week, from a wheelchair in front of
Compton's, he
collected proclamations from a lesbian state senator and the full Assembly and a
but no apology—from Police Chief Heather Fong.

One of the city's cross-dressing trans-religious Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
inaugurated the plaque: "Amen, A-women and A-the others," she intoned as she
gold glitter into the air.

And Stryker spoke. Stryker is the director, along with Victor Silverman, of the
"Screaming Queens, the Riot at Compton's Cafeteria." In 1995, Stryker unearthed
of the then-forgotten riot while doing research at San Francisco's GLBT
Historical Society.
Her film maintains the riot was not an isolated incident; violence exploded at
the corner of
Taylor and Turk in San Francisco's Tenderloin because of the confluence of many
And the riot itself triggered other forces that flowed into the modern gay

The Tenderloin had long been the place to satisfy "the fleshly needs of men,"
says a voice-
over in Stryker's movie. "A marketplace of vice, degradation, and human misery."
But it
was a vice-ridden district run by corrupt police who demanded payola from the
and illegal clubs.

"Police would give people of indeterminate gender the message that they belonged
in the
Tenderloin, which at the time was a gay ghetto—a slummy gay ghetto," said Suzan
who walked the streets there.

"The Tenderloin was populated by the pimps and the whores and the drag queens
and I
felt very comfortable there," said Aleisha Brevard, who was a female

"We sold ourselves because we needed to make a living," said Ching.

But it was dangerous too. Some girls had been beaten up by johns surprised that
were men. Some had been killed.

Then came the Vietnam War. Long hair and love beads became a symbol of a man
the war, not a man who wanted to be a girl, said Stryker. Soldiers crowded the
on their way to Vietnam. Police raids escalated. A few blocks away the black
civil rights
movement moved into the Tenderloin when Reverend Cecil Williams took over as
pastor of
Glide Memorial Methodist Church. And that movement fueled the new LGBT
militancy, said

In July 1966, a new activist organization called Vanguard, mostly street
hustlers and drag
queens, formed. They met at Compton's, but the management didn't like "the
uppity new
political attitudes some of its customers were starting to express," said
Stryker, and put
them out. And so Vanguard picketed the cafeteria on July 18. That boiling
resentment led
directly to the riot, she says.

After the riot, partly because of Blackstone's work, police attitudes slowly
Stanford opened a sexual-reassignment clinic in 1968. The city's health
started issuing ID cards for people who had changed their sex—something the
state would
not do—so they could get regular jobs.

"I am so proud of these women," Stryker said. "It brings the power of our
history to bear
on the struggle."

"Once you feel good about yourself," said St. Jaymes in the kicker to Stryker's
"nobody can hurt you."

Others say that the while the riot might have been an important milestone in gay
its real importance is to each of the people whose lives it made possible.

" I went from being a teenaged sissy boy to being a woman," said Felicia
Elizondo, a
Compton's veteran at the dedication. "Being a woman now is just fantastic."

Susan Stryker's "Screaming Queens" documentary will air on Channel 13 on July 4
at 3:30
a.m. It is available on DVD at screamingqueensmovie.com.

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