The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot

Compton’s Riot

While researching the gender variant community, I found something that caught my interest. Most people are aware that San Francisco is known for it’s ability to be “gay friendly.” However, I found an article that discusses how San Francisco used to be in the 1960’s including 1966. There is a documentary called “Screaming Queens; The Riot at the Compton’s Cafeteria” depicting a historical moment for the transgender and transsexual community of San Francisco. Before stumbling upon this article, I had never heard of the documentary which made it even more fascinating for me.

To understand the riot, one must first understand the historical time period that this took place. According to the article, 1966 was a time for political civil rights movements, but still kept an eye on the “gay community of San Francisco.” It was “unlawful to cross-dress or impersonate a female” at this time, which made for discrimination. Gay men, drag queens, and transsexuals often faced ridicule and harassment by the police and other law officials. It was increasingly difficult to be protected or employed. This lack of employment led to prostitution (Sandeen).

According to the trans historian Susan Stryker, those who wanted to get equal rights and treatment from the police department and the management at Compton’s Cafeteria (a place many gay or trans youth gathered), formed an organization with Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. The group they formed was the Vanguard’s which began the picket against Compton’s Cafeteria to receive equal treatment. The riot took place in August 1966 and eventually was between 50-60 customers and the law enforcement.This riot “did not solve everything that the transgender community of San Francisco faced. However, it allowed for some changes to take place. There was some acceptance of the diversity in which the transgender people were starting to be treated as citizens” (Stryker).

I was never aware that San Francisco was not always accepting of the “queer community.” I feel as if I made many judgments about it always being like that without taking into consideration that this country has gone through many civil rights movements including with women and African Americans. It was very naive of me to think that I was thoroughly educated on the subject matter. I want to be able to watch the whole documentary so I can become fully informed. It would be quite interesting to see how the police officers interact with those of whom are different from them. Susan Stryker has proved yet again to be a very thorough trans historian, allowing for other to read her work and be able to relate. IT saddens me to know that no matter what, there is always going to be people that discriminate in this country. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans are always going to be seen as outcasts, merely because people are sheltered, do not like that of which is not the norm, and people who choose to not conform to the traditions of society. I like to think of myself as having an opened mind and I wish people could do the same and avoid oppression and violence.

Sandeen, Autumn. “GLT » The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.” GLT » Gay & Lesbian Times. 7 Oct. 2010. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. <;


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