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

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

As the clock stuck midnight 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 straight allies gathered outside the Black Cat to protest police antagonism, harassment, and violence toward the city’s gay and lesbian community.

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

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

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of 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 on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact:

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7 Responses

  1. Doug Probst says:

    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.

    • Jessa C says:

      Totally agree. Know History to don’t repeat the same errors. I will not even comment what happened during this night … but it’s important to keep it in mind.

  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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