Friday, 5 August 2011

This Day in History: August 5 - 6, 1966, The Compton's Cafeteria Riot

Today, and tomorrow, mark the 45th anniversary of one of the key pre-Stonewall events in TLBG history. It had happened in the low income San Francisco district known as the Tenderloin. The neighbourhood's outlet of the Compton's cafeteria chain, at 101 Taylor Street, was the scene of a revolt of mostly transgender teenagers, along with street youth and a few residents of the burgeoning hippie neighbourhood in the nearby Haight-Ashbury district, against the discriminatory policies of, and treatment by, the cafeteria's management and staff.

On the night of August 5, the restaurant was packed. Management felt the mostly young crowd was rowdy and called the police. When they arrived and began to rough up some of the customers, a trans girl threw coffee at one of the officers and in the ensuing melee, the main window was smashed as were those of a police car outside and a newsstand was burned down.

The following night, members of the Vanguard, the first TLBG youth group in United States history, picketed Compton's along with others, including a lesbian organization called the Street Orphans. Once again, the police arrived, and once again the participants asserted themselves: they revolted. Public reaction to the police force's treatment of the demonstrated was negative. It was the beginning of the transgender community's assertion of itself politically (the same had happened at Dewey's Restaurant in Philadelphia the previous year) and also the beginning of a general public awareness of the experiences of transgender people. It has been a long, hard struggle on all fronts since, and there is much further to go.

Today a plaque commemorates both the site of the cafeteria and the 1966 riot. In 2005, Transgender activist and historian Susan Stryker produced a public television documentary on the revolt called Screaming Queens: The Riots at Compton's Cafeteria (I own a copy on DVD). The video later won an Emmy award for best TV documentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment