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In August 1966, The Compton's Cafeteria Riot marked an important date in the civil rights movement in the United States. The riot was saw attacks on members of the transgender community and the local police. The conflict erupted into violence during an aggressive police effort to close the establishment of Compton’s Cafeteria at midnight. Because of the mistreatment of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay,bisexual, transgender, and queer) community in the past, and suspicion of the law given the long history of statutes that criminalized homosexuality, the event at Compton’s Cafeteria would become one of the most significant events in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Compton’s Cafeteria no longer exists. The building remains on-site and at one time housed the Oshun Center - a women’s clinic that offered free care.

  • Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot 1966 marker private work of Gaylesf, public domain
  •              Compton's Cafe Storefront photo Wikipedia entry with link
  • Celebrating A People's History
  • Image of one of the participants courtesy of the SF LGBT Center

The “Compton's Cafeteria Riot” is sometimes referred to as the “Gene Compton's Cafeteria Riot” because Gene Compton was the owner of the chain of cafeterias. This one specific cafeteria, in which the riot occurred, was open from 1954 to 1972, and was located in what was referred to as the "Tenderloin District". On the corner of San Francisco’s Taylor and Kurt, the cafeteria was a place for transgender and transsexual people to socialize. At a time of great change in America, this riot marked the beginning of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, happening prior to the Stonewall Riots in New York, 1969.

The transsexual and transgender population of the United States was not accepted publicly due to a San Francisco law created in 1863 that made cross-dressing illegal in public. Not only were they not accepted by the general public, they also had been shunned by the gay community as well. This issue of nonacceptance helped to fuel the tensions that erupted in Compton’s Cafeteria riot, because the cafeteria was one of few places where transsexual and transgender people were free to be themselves.

On that August night in 1966, the Police came to the cafeteria with intent to close the establishment down by midnight with the excuse that disturbance that occurs after midnight should be avoided. The police were using the law of cross-dressing to oppress the transgender community by preventing their socialization. By accessing the video link provided in this Clio entry, you will experience a journey to the cafeteria on the night of the riot (some people believe that the police came to the cafeteria to riot and close the establishment rather than to prevent a riot from happening). When the police attempted to close the cafeteria, they became aggressive and a “queen” responded by throwing a cup of coffee at the officer.

People rioted that night in Compton’s cafeteria. Sugar shakers and dishes were thrown. The window of the establishment was broken and the police car was vandalized - even a newsstand was burned. This is a historical example of minority voices being lifted in protest accompanied by violence. The riot continued with picketing, and another glass window was broken. The voice of the LGBTQ community was sure to be heard as the ignition of their civil rights movement was set. 

When visiting San Francisco, be sure to view the 40th anniversary marker that commemorates the event at the site of the Compton's Cafeteria Riot.

Broverman, Neal. We Can Still Hear the 'Screaming Queens' of the Compton's Cafeteria Riot. Advocate. July 08, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017.

Yaeger, Lynn. Before Stonewall: Remembering the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. Vogue. August 19, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2017.

Gene Compton's Cafeteria. GloriajfHistoryoftheCastrosf. Accessed March 19, 2017.