Tag Archives: Compton’s Cafeteria

Gay History – August 1966: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, San Francisco [WATCH: Screaming Queens]

On an warm August night in San Francisco in 1966 (no one knows the exact date since SFPD files have been lost) at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, a seedy eatery in the Tenderloin district one of the first rebellions against the oppression of the LGBT community.

Compton’s became a sanctuary drag queens, young gay street hustlers, and down-and-out regulars much to the chagrin of it’s owners.

One August night the management who were finally fed-up and annoyed by the noisy crowd at one table, called the police. When a surly cop, accustomed to manhandling the Compton’s clientele, attempted to arrest one of the drag queens, she threw her coffee in his face and mayhem erupted. Windows broke, furniture flew through the air and the hustlers and drag queens fought back. Police reinforcements then arrived, and the fighting spilled into the street.

For the first time, the gay hustlers and drag queens banded together to fight back.  Getting the better of the cops, they kicked, punched and stomped on the cops with their high-heels. For everyone at Compton’s that night, one thing was certain — things there would never be the same again.

There is so much more to the story of the Compton Cafeteria than those bare-bones facts. In 1966 San Francisco it was unlawful to crossdress and it was unlawful to “impersonate a female.” Drag performers, transvestites, effeminate gay males, and rough trade hustlers experienced frequent harassment by police, including arrests, beatings and demeaning jailhouse treatment.  With no rights, employment or public accommodation protections, prostitution became survival sex work — it was the only way a drag queen or a down and out hot young guy could make a living.

The violent reaction of the drag queens and gays at the Compton’s Cafeteria did not solve the problems that they were having in the Tenderloin on daily basis. It did, however, create a space in which it became possible for the city of San Francisco to begin relating differently to the community — to begin treating them, in fact, as citizens with legitimate needs instead of simply as a problem to get rid of. That shift in awareness was a crucial step for the contemporary  social justice movement — the beginning of a new relationship to state power and social legitimacy. 

Occupy San Francisco Offshoot Group “OccuPride” To Protest San Francisco Pride Parade Sunday

“OccuPride” an offshoot of San Francisco’s Occupy SF movement plans on protesting and “reclaiming” San Francisco’s LGBT Pride Parade on Sunday because its become “increasingly commercialized and co-opted by corporate interests.”

From its Mission Statement

The OccuPride Coalition “Community Not Commodity” is a collective assembly of queer/trans-focused community groups with established reputations in the Bay Area that have come together to strengthen and unify our diverse communities. We have come together to confront the 1% within our movement. We work for complete liberation of queer and trans people! Groups participating in/supporting this year’s Occupation are listed below.

This action is:

(1) A radical, direct action critique of the commercialization and commodification of the LGBTQI community. (2) A bold, creative and fun assertion of the largely untapped people-power present in our community. (3) A call  to community members who wish to step up and confront the existing corporate power structure.

This action is NOT:

(1) An attempt to take others’ thunder or disrespect any ongoing work being done by members of our community. (2) An attack on the Pride parade or its organizers; or aggressive homo vs. homo action. We work to strengthen our community!


To confront the 1% within our movement for complete Queer and Trans Liberation!! To celebrate our history and the lost narratives contained within that history. To recognize, foster, and celebrate the diversity within our community. To reignite and exercise collective queer power! Raise awareness of issues pertinent to the LGBTQI community.

Groups supporting and/or participating in this action include ActUp San Francisco, Gay Shame, Pride@Work, LAGAI/QUIT, Code Pink and other others.

OccuPride will also be holding a Post-Direct Action Rally and celebration at the site of Compton’s Cafeteria, where the infamous  Compton Cafeteria riots took place in 1966.

For more information visit:  Bay Area OccuPride 2012 or the OccupySF website