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Stuff You Should Know / – The Compton Cafeteria Riot

Stuff You Should Know – The Compton Cafeteria Riot

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In this episode of “Stuff You Should Know,” the hosts dive into the little-known but significant Compton’s cafeteria riot of 1966. This riot, similar to the more famous Stonewall uprising, was a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history that deserves more recognition. They explore the context of the riot, the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and the impact of the riot on the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Main Takeaways

Police Harassment and LGBTQ+ Community

  • The Compton’s cafeteria riot in 1966 was a response to police harassment faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • LGBTQ+ individuals in San Francisco in the 60s faced discrimination from the police, who could arrest them for cross-dressing or drag.
  • Due to the lack of gender-affirming identification, many LGBTQ+ individuals resorted to sex work or entertainment in the Tenderloin area.

Compton’s Cafeteria as a Haven

  • Compton’s cafeteria provided a gathering place for LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly unhoused trans teenagers, in the Tenderloin area.
  • Although not completely safe, Compton’s offered a space for LGBTQ+ individuals to be themselves and find community.
  • LGBTQ+ individuals in the Tenderloin were not welcomed in gay bars, further highlighting the importance of Compton’s cafeteria.

The Rise of Vanguard and the Riot

  • Unhoused trans sex workers organized themselves with the help of Glide Memorial Methodist Church and formed an organization called Vanguard.
  • Vanguard’s activism led to increased police harassment, which eventually culminated in the Compton’s cafeteria riot.
  • The riot, a violent uprising against police aggression, took place in August 1966 and had immediate effects on LGBTQ+ rights.

The Forgotten Riot and Rediscovery

  • The Compton’s cafeteria riot was largely forgotten and overshadowed by the more prominent Stonewall uprising.
  • It was only mentioned directly in two places, highlighting the significance of Susan Striker’s research and documentary, “Screaming Queens.”
  • Susan Striker, a transgender historian, uncovered the story of the riot and shed light on an important event in LGBTQ+ history.


The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot: A Forgotten Moment in LGBTQ+ History

The Compton’s cafeteria riot in 1966 was an important moment in LGBTQ+ history that was almost lost to time. It was a response to police harassment faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Despite living in dire straits and facing discrimination, LGBTQ+ individuals formed a community and found support in places like Compton’s cafeteria. The riot, similar to the more well-known Stonewall uprising, was forgotten for many years until Susan Striker’s research brought it to light. The riot drew attention to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and led to important changes in LGBTQ+ rights, such as the end of anti-cross-dressing laws and the establishment of support groups for trans people.


The Compton’s cafeteria riot serves as a reminder of the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community in the face of adversity. It highlights the importance of recognizing and preserving the history of marginalized communities. By understanding and acknowledging the struggles and victories of the past, we can continue to fight for equality and inclusivity for all.

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