Three years before the Stonewall Riots lit the flame of the LGBTQ+ Movement, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of 1966 poured the lighter fluid on the pavement. As recounted in author Susan Stryker’s 2005 documentary, Screaming Queens, the San Francisco uprising began after years of police profiling and harassment when a fed-up drag queen threw a hot cup of coffee in a police officer’s face.
“[Gene Compton’s Cafeteria] erupted. People started throwing everything they could get their hands on at the police,” she recalls in the film. “Before it was over, a police car was destroyed, the corner newsstand was set on fire, and years of pent-up resentment boiled out into the night. It was the first known instance of collective, militant, queer resistance to police harassment in United States history.”
While this groundbreaking moment was largely forgotten in the national conversation on LGBTQ+ history, it forever changed how the local queer and trans community saw themselves. And the Tenderloin neighborhood, which served as a backdrop to the event, became a haven for a more emboldened and self-assured community of queer and trans people. So when gentrification — which has loomed over the Golden City for years — threatened the residents’ unofficial ownership of the area, they knew it was time to tap into the energy their elders expelled decades prior.