The Compton's Cafeteria riot took place on an evening in August 1966 at Gene Compton's Cafeteria, an all-night restaurant in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, California. The homophobic and transphobic management at Gene Compton's Cafeteria frequently called the San Francisco police (SFPD) to remove and arrest queer customers. On that particular night, SFPD was called to remove a table of noisy diners. Frustrated by constant police harassment and profiling, patrons resisted and started throwing silverware, cups, plates, and trays at the SFPD officers.[1] It has been said but not proven that a trans woman sparked the riot when she threw a cup of coffee in an officer's face.[2] The riot spread onto the surrounding Turk and Taylor Streets and the cafeteria was also damaged.[1]

Locally, the riot was not originally seen as significant to the community members who were focused on their own survival and did not have the time or resources for political organizing. The event was mostly ignored by the media, even in the publications run by the gay community,[1] and no arrest records remain in SFPD archives.[2] Despite how it was ignored at the time, the riot is now seen as a turning point for trans civil rights and a significant moment in trans resistance to police violence.[1]

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Compton's Cafeteria diners

Late night diners at Gene Compton's Cafeteria, sometime in the 1960s

By 1966, the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco had become a haven for various gender non-conforming youth, gay men, drag queens, and transgender women. Names used during the time period included butch, hustler, female impersonator, queen or drag queen, sissy, and hair fairy. Many trans residents could not find legal employment and engaged in sex work, drug dealing, or other illegal activities for their survival, working primarily during late night hours. Since the Gene Compton's Cafeteria at Turk and Taylor was open 24/7, it became a popular gathering spot despite the management's discriminatory behavior. On July 18, 1966, the LGBTQIA+ youth organization Vanguard staged a picket line at Compton's in protest, but the restaurant ignored them.[1]


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