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Today In Gay History – January 1, 1967: Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles Raided

50th Anniversary - February 11, 1967: Large Gay Protest Happens At The Black Cat Tavern n L.A.

On New Year’s Day in 1967, undercover officers arrested 14 patrons of the Black Cat tavern, one of a number of gay bars that lined Sunset Boulevard at the time.  The bar attracted a largely working class clientele and was nestled among a number of businesses friendly to gay men and lesbians.

According to Tangents – a local gay newspaper – “The Black Cat was happy and hooping” before undercover police arrived and started beating patrons as they were ringing in the New Year: “There were colored balloons covering the ceiling … and three glittering Christmas trees”  Moments later, “all hell broke loose.” 

That night the Black Cat was packed, the barroom strung with Christmas lights. A trio called the Rhythm Queens was performing, and when the costume contest concluded at New Faces

The clock hit twelve. Balloons tumbled from the ceiling. The Rhythm Queens belted out “Auld Lang Syne,” and for a moment there was time to grab a kiss. But not all the revelers were there for the same party. At five minutes after midnight, plainclothes policemen began swinging clubs and pool cues, dragging patrons out the door and into the street. They pulled the bartender over the bar, lacerating his face on broken glass. Two patrons ran across Sanborn and took cover in the crowd at New Faces, where Circus of Books now stands. Officers followed, breaking one bartender’s nose, leaving another with a ruptured spleen. Sixteen people were arrested that night—six of them charged with lewd conduct, also known as kissing.

Two of the men arrested for kissing were later convicted under California Penal Code Section 647 and registered as sex offenders.The men appealed, asserting their right of equal protection under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case.

On February 11, 1967 hundreds of people;  gays, lesbians, bisexuals, drag queens and straights gathered outside the tavern to protest police antagonism, harassment, and violence toward the city’s LGBT community.

Witness accounts indicate the demonstration was peaceful, if not a little tense because of heavy police monitoring.

While Stonewall is the milestone that we commemorate and remember to mark of our liberation.  There are lesser remembered protests and pickets that happened before June 28,1969 that were just as important to out visibility and our fight that should be remembered.

Some of these include:

May 1959 – Los Angeles: Gay men clashed with police at Cooper’s Donuts, a hang-out for drag queens and street hustlers who were frequently harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Police arrested three people, including John Rechy, but other 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.

September 19, 1964 – New York City: Organized by activist Randy Wicker, a small group picketed the Whitehall Street Induction Center after the confidentiality of gay men’s draft records was violated. This action has been identified as the first gay rights demonstration in the United States.

December 2, 1964 – New York City:  Four gay men and lesbians picketed a lecture by a psychoanalyst espousing the model of homosexuality as a mental illness. The demonstrators were given ten minutes to make a rebuttal.

December 4, 1964 – San Francisco: The Council on Religion and the Homosexual held a costume party at California Hall on Polk Street in San Francisco to raise money for the new organization. When the ministers informed the San Francisco Police Department of the event, the SFPD attempted to force the rented hall’s owners to cancel it. At the event itself, some of the ministers and ticket takers were arrested, creating a brief riot.

April 17 & 18, 1965 – Washington, DC:  Gay activists picketed the White House on April 17th and 18th after learning that Cuba was placing homosexuals in forced labor camps.

And there are many more. 

While the Stonewall Riots will always be the benchmark of our LGBT liberation these early and forgotten protests are just as important and those who were invoked are the true and forgotten heroes of the LGBT community.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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2 thoughts on “Today In Gay History – January 1, 1967: Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles Raided”

  1. So fkn wrong. Thank you for never letting the world forget the atrocities committed against Gay people by the police, the “Christians”, society at large, and family members of gay youth.

  2. Will, here I go quibbling again? But “benchmark?” I think ‘tipping point’ might be better as it indicates a certain stage of development while benchmark is used to indicate a standard measurement, imho.

    But I totally agree that there is this immense denial of most pre-Stonewall actions by those who seem dedicated to having some sort of serial narrative in order to comprehend events.

    Btw, among the many more would be the LA Compton (sic) Cafeteria riot; Kameny & Mattachine/Bilitis White House protests; and Randolfe Wicker’s CBS television interview; and his & others’ “Julius sip-in.” Each was crucial and momentous in terms of exposure to the growth of queer identity, imho.

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