Site of Compton's Cafeteria Riot - Atlas Obscura

Site of Compton's Cafeteria Riot

Where a demonstration led to equal rights for one of California's most marginalized communities.  


Anyone familiar with the political rights of the LGBTQ+ community has most likely heard of the Stonewall Riots. These protests in the summer of 1969 were part of a series of events that helped to pave the way for equal rights for this community. One of those events took place three years before Stonewall, at a diner in San Francisco.

Compton’s Cafeteria was a chain of 24-hour eateries in San Francisco. In the 60s, the Tenderloin was one of the few neighborhoods where trans women and drag queens could live openly, and the Compton’s in the neighborhood became a popular meeting place. But the restaurant didn’t exactly welcome them with open arms—workers often called the police at night to clear the place out. The police could—and did—arrest trans women for the crime of “female impersonation.” Late in the summer of 1966, some of the regulars at Compton’s decided that they would no longer tolerate harassment and intimidation.

When a policeman grabbed one of the patrons, she threw a cup of coffee in his face. After that, the whole place erupted. As police tried to arrest people inside the cafeteria, they fought back using handbags, shoes, and furniture to avoid being put into paddy wagons. Windows were smashed and a newsstand was set on fire.

Protests continued the following day, sparking the city to enact draconian measures that targeted a specific subset of individuals, mainly sex workers and people of color. This, in turn, led these disenfranchised groups to organize and combat laws that they saw as unjustified and illegal. 

During the Pride month of June 2016, at the end of the San Francisco Trans March, the 100 block of Taylor Street was renamed Gene Compton’s Cafeteria Way. The following year, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District was established to create a safe space for transgender people in the Tenderloin.

Know Before You Go

Just be warned that this area of San Francisco is not the cleanest, nor it is the safest. One was must be on their guard. Be aware of your surroundings and proceed with caution. A place where one would want to visit during daylight hours.

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