The Crompton riots in San Francisco: a turning point for trans rights

The Crompton Riots in San Francisco preceded Stonewall by 3 years, with the Crompton Riots being a particular turning point for the transgender community.

HomoCulture Equality + Rights Koelen Andrews

This article was published on December 31st, 2019

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Celebrations from San Francisco to Sydney were held to commemorate the events leading to the modern day LGBT rights movement that took place in New York City. Though, these were not the first uprisings of queer people against inequality. The Black Cat Riot in Los Angeles and Crompton Riots in San Francisco both preceded Stonewall by three years, with the Crompton Riots being a particular turning point for the transgender community.

Three years before Stonewall, The Crompton Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District erupted into chaos and violence one hot August night after a trans hustler refused arrest and was assaulted by the police after throwing her coffee in one of the officers. Drag queens and fellow transgender men and women began fighting with the police and the riot poured out onto the street. The police fought with their batons and fists, while the trans and drag queens fought back hard with high heels and heavy purses.

In the 1960s, Crompton Cafeteria had become a place where transgender people, gay people, hustlers, drag queens, pimps, and Johns were able to congregate in peace and be out about their identity. In the summer of 1966, the Crompton Cafeteria management decided that this clientele was affecting ‘real clientele’ from patronizing their business, so they began implementing a service fee onto the queer people’s bills and started calling the police on these trans people and drag queens.

The trans community began picketing the restaurant. On the first night of the riots, the police, known to manhandle and harass trans people, were called to disperse the growing crowd. During an attempted arrest, an unknown trans woman through her coffee in an officer’s face, prompting him to lash out and beat her. What followed was the front windows of Crompton’s being smashed out, dishes and furniture being hurled, and the crowd of people fighting back against the police.

Reinforcements were called, and the dozens of protestors were hauled off to jail. The following night, the crowd size had quadrupled, with support for the trans community being the aim. The police were called again, the windows of Cromptons smashed out again, a news stand was burned down, and dozens of arrests were made. Police records in San Francisco have been destroyed, and because the event was carried out by members of the LGBT community, the local news and media didn’t cover the story. So, there is no exact date for the riots.

What happened afterwards were several gatherings of people non-violently protesting the police brutality of queer people. A neighborhood “street sweep” and several other peaceful demonstrations happened. And as a result, a network of transgender youths founded Vanguard, possibly the world’s first transgender rights group. By 1968, this had evolved into the National Transsexual Counseling Unit—the world’s first advocacy organization focusing on trans rights.

The Stonewall Riots were a dramatic turning point for LGBT people, equality, and visibility. But the Crompton Riots were a pivotal predecessor to Stonewall that is one of many important events for gay people to recognize. The corner of Turk Street and Taylor has a new memorial sign commemorating the riots. Add the location of the Crompton Riots to your top 5 essential things to do on your next trip to San Francisco.

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