In August 1966, drag queens, trans sex workers, hair fairies and gay street hustlers rose up against police harassment in what became known at the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot at Turk and Taylor Streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Many events are planned to honor the 50th anniversary of Compton’s, kicking off on July 28 at the Tenderloin Museum at 6:00 p.m. with an hour long walking tour of the LGBTQ history of the Tenderloin led by Cruzin d’Loo (the drag alter-ego of performer Kevin Wisney). The event is jointly organized with the GLBT Historical Society and is the kickoff of a six-week series of events at both the Tenderloin Museum and the GLBT History Museum.
Following the tour, the museum at 7:00 p.m. hosts a kickoff reception. Trans historian and award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Stryker and original “screaming queen” Felicia Elizondo will speak briefly to mark the occasion.
Compton’s and the Tenderloin
As I describe in my book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco, the Tenderloin was the geographic center of San Francisco’s LGBT movement from post WWII through the end of the 1960’s. Its number of gay bars steadily expanded despite all out efforts by City Hall, the U.S. military and the SFPD to close them down.
Compton’s Cafeterias were located throughout San Francisco. The business played a unique social role in the Tenderloin as a place where drag queens, hair fairies, queers and others felt they could hang out together without fear of police harassment. Robert Zagone’s 1966 film, Drugs in the Tenderloin, includes many shots of Compton’s and the lengthy interviews with the leading lesbians in the film occurred inside the cafeteria.
So having found a presumably safe place to socialize, the group now known as “Screaming Queens” weren’t happy when Compton’s decided that they were now undesirable. Everyone else was allowed to linger over a cup of coffee for hours, but suddenly tighter time requirements were imposed on the queens.
They did not take this harassment lightly. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Don’t miss the launch of what will be two months of events honoring Compton’s 50th anniversary (others will be at the Roxie and the GLBT Historical Society Museum). And if you have yet to see Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman’s Screaming Queens film, it’s available on Netflix so you will definitely want to watch it.
The Tenderloin Museum also has many exhibits on the neighborhood’s role in building the city’s LGBT movement. Its website enables online ticket purchases for the July 28 tour and gives a full calendar of anniversary events.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and a Board member of the Tenderloin Museum.Filed under: Mid-Market / Tenderloin