by Shoshanna Carroll
June 4th, 2020
It’s July 1966, transgender people and transgender people of color are being targeted for gathering at Compton’s Cafeteria at 101 Taylor Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Why? Trans women, and especially trans women of color, were unwelcomed in the neighborhood gay bars and other restaurants due to legal discrimination, and transphobia. Compton’s Cafeteria was open twenty-four hours and provided a public place for food, and to meet up with others, and just to come and rest. However, the owner of Compton’s in 1966 began to call the police for the gathering transgender women in the restaurant. In 1966, it was illegal to “crossdress,” and transgender women were considered “crossdressers” by the police and law. It was stated these “female impersonation” laws were aimed at those “perceived to be male that were dressed as female” because they were seen as a threat to women, and impersonating someone was carried out with an intent to “commit crimes.” These crimes, of course, were sex work, and homosexual acts were also illegal.
By 1966, these run ins with cops, and the discrimination of the neighborhood, would boil over three years before Stonewall. Transgender women of the time were, as they still are, discriminated against in terms of work, housing, and freedom to simply be in public. After continual abuse by police and business owners, August was a month that should never be forgotten. As Compton’s continued to harass the women to attempt to force them to leave, they then implemented a fee for being in the building, they also forced trans women to use men’s restrooms. As this continued then, cops were called because these women were deemed loitering and threatening to business.
The trans community organized the first trans protest picket in front of Compton’s barring others from entrance since they could not get respectful service on July 18, 1966. They also organized to stand publicly against the mistreatment of law enforcement. Tamara Ching recounts the events of that month and interaction with the police by saying:
“The police could harass you at any time,” Ching told me. “They would ask you for pieces of ID. You had to have your male ID if you were born male and didn’t go through a sex change. They would pat you down, and while they’re patting you down, of course they’re feeling you up,” she continued. “They would arrest you and put you in the big van, Big Bertha, and drive you around town. When they turned a corner they turned sharply, so people would fall.” Ladies in the Streets. NPR.
With police brutality, and civil discrimination the month of August would be a powder keg. As the drag performers and trans activists stood in the picket, law enforcement showed up and began to grab these people, and with the history of what interaction would be expected, it boiled over, a drag queen, when grabbed and assaulted threw, her coffee, and others stood up against the violence of police as well. Purses were used to defend, tables were turned over, and for nights, the trans and queer youth fought for their rights against unjust laws, police brutality, and civil discrimination. However, that first night in July did not lead to change, Compton’s and other facilities than banned transgender women from service and entry.
Felicia Flames said of the time “[LGBT] people were thrown out of hotels, they were stabbed, they had their breasts cut, they were mutilated because of their genitalia,” remembers Felicia Flames, a self-described transsexual woman who frequented Compton’s Cafeteria in the ‘60s and still lives in San Francisco. “We were something that could be thrown away in a trash can.” Don’t Let History Forget About Compton’s. The Advocate.
So, from July through the month of August the transgender community fought back, they would not allow police to molest and abuse them and would continue to picket Compton’s for their discrimination and hate. Thanks to those nights in July and August trans women began a fight that would leave a legacy of change. Following the demonstrations, Compton and California began to offer and build networks for transgender social and medical support. Finally, in 1968, a year before Stonewall, the National Transsexual Counseling Unit was launched. The first ever peer-run support and advocacy organization for transgender people in the world.
As we celebrate Pride in 2020, many of the same fights are still needed. Just this week a trans woman of color, Iyanna Dior, was beaten in Minneapolis for entering a convenience store by men. A trans man named Tony McDade was murdered by the police in Florida. Our own state still has not passed LGBTQ+ Equality Acts and still debates the protection of transgender people in public restrooms and facilities. Even last month, the Trump administration moved to restrict care to trans people as the world faces a pandemic and the United States faces over 100,000 deaths.
Pride is a celebration, but this year we are cognizant that there is a fight that still must be carried forward. We must protect black lives, and we must protect trans lives. The work of the Center this month will be continuing to advocate, protect, and enhance the lives of these marginalized groups. Pride began as a riot, and we will continue to speak for justice.