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 Compton Cafeteria Riot Memorial Plaque

San Francisco, California, USA


The Compton Cafeteria Riot Memorial Plaque was erected on June 22nd, 2006 to commemorate the Compton Cafeteria Riot that occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The riot was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more infamous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City.

Compton's Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940's to the 1970's. The Tenderloin location of Compton's at 101 Taylor Street was one of the few places where transgender people could congregate publicly in the city, because they were unwelcome in gay bars. In addition, the cafeteria was open all hours until the riots occurred. Because cross-dressing was illegal at the time, police could use the presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar.

Many of the militant hustlers and street queens involved in the riot were members of Vanguard, the first known gay youth organization in the United States, which had been organized earlier that year with the help of radical ministers working with Glide Memorial Church, a center for progressive social activism in the Tenderloin for many years.

In the 1960s the Compton’s Cafeteria staff began to call the police to crack down on transgender and transsexual individuals who would frequent the restaurant. In response to police arrests, the transgender and transsexual community launched a picket of Compton’s Cafeteria. Although the picket was unsuccessful, it was one of the first demonstrations against transgender and transsexual violence in San Francisco. On the first night of the riot, the management of Compton's called the police when some transgender customers became raucous. In the 50's and 60's police officers were known to mistreat transgender people. When one of these known officers attempted to arrest one of the trans women, she threw her coffee in his face. At that point the riot began, dishes and furniture were thrown, and the restaurant's plate-glass windows were smashed. Police called for reinforcements as the fighting spilled into the street where a police car had all its windows broken out and a sidewalk newsstand was burned down. The exact date of the riot is unknown because 1960 police records no longer exist and the riot was not covered by newspapers.

The next night, more transgender people, hustlers, Tenderloin street people, and other members of the LGBT community joined in a picket of the cafeteria, which would not allow transgender people back in.

The demonstration ended with the newly installed plate-glass windows being smashed again.

In the aftermath of the riot at Compton's, a network of transgender social, psychological, and medical support services was established, which culminated in 1968 with the creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit [NTCU], the first such peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.

Serving as an overseer to the NTCU was Sergeant Elliott Blackstone, designated in 1962 as the first San Francisco Police Department liaison to what was then called the "homophile community." According to Susan Stryker, Compton’s Cafeteria riot was “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history." Transgender people finally stood up to the abuse and discrimination by police officers.

Following the riot, transgender and transsexual individuals were allowed to live their lives more freely and openly because police brutality towards them subsided. For example, they had much less fear of being heckled by the police department for dressing in drag during the daytime.

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