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Digital Subscriptions > Attitude > Issue 273 > Straight Outta Compton’s

Straight Outta Compton’s

EVERYONE HAS HEARD OF THE STONEWALL RIOTS – BUT THE MILITANT LGBT MOVEMENT WAS BORN THREE YEARS EARLIER – AND HALF A CENTURY AGO NOW – AT AN ALL-NIGHT CAFÉ IN A SEEDY PART OF SAN FRANCISCO
ILLUSTRATIONS: EGO RODRIGUEZ

A DRAG QUEEN threw a cup of coffee into a cop’s face as he tried to arrest her. In a flick of the wrist, the place erupted. After suffering years of insult and ostracism, the anger burst forth into a flood. Drag queens, hustlers and transgender youths threw sugar bowls, knives, forks; anything they could get their hands on. Some used their heavy handbags to batter the policemen. But this wasn’t at New York’s famous Stonewall Inn. It was at an all-night coffee shop on the other side of the country — in 1966, three years before the morewidely known protest.

As the cafeteria’s windows were smashed, the police retreated. The violence spilled into the streets. It was noisy, public — and unprecedented.

The fighting was eventually quelled by the arrival of large numbers of police vans but the point had been made. No longer would the drag queens and the hustlers and the “hair fairies” put up with being harassed. They were the way they were, and they weren’t going to change. And if they weren’t going to change, then the institutions, from the cops to the courts, would have to. The downtrodden had had enough.

The riot at Compton’s cafeteria, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, was arguably the first visible sign of the fight back, the first collective act of what the author and professor Susan Stryker calls “collective militant queer” resistance. The outcasts of the Tenderloin were beyond marginal: they were encouraged to think of themselves as the lowest of the low and were treated as such by the authorities. The habitués of Gene Compton’s, on the corner of Taylor and Turk streets, had very little to lose: at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in almost every state, the effeminate and trans youths who flocked to the all-night café had long been disowned by their parents. Forced to live outside the system and constantly arrested by the police’s notorious TAC squad as female impersonators, many turned to prostitution simply to survive.

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About Attitude

The Orlando attack is one of the most violent acts perpetrated against a gathered group of queer people in the West. Attitude presents a passionate analysis of the event, with guest writers from the Latin, Muslim, Christian, Black and Trans communities asking the question: What have we learned from Orlando? Elsewhere in this issue: Three years before Stonewall… there was the riot at Compton’s cafeteria in San Francisco. Attitude commemorates 50 years since the queer community fought back against an oppressive police force. 20 years of Girl Power. Spice Girl Emma Bunton recalls the highs and lows of life as part of the world’s most famous girl groups ever. Out gay Iraqi activist Amir Ashour on why he’ll never stop fighting for LGBT liberation in his homeland. Pop’s new sensation Shura on why she doesn’t want her music compartmentalized as a queer artist. Willam reveals why he has no love for RuPaul’s Drag Race.
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