HONOLULU (KHON2) — Pride. The celebration has spread across the globe as people feel safe enough and accepted enough to follow their hearts.
It defines entire communities and provides a way of indulging in the acceptance of people on their terms.
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The history of 2SLGBTQ+ peoples spread across history, cultures, politics and religions. From the Greek poet, Sappho, to modern-era political leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, queer people have made indelible marks on all spectrums of societal existence.
For centuries, monotheistic religions that began in Western Asia dominated society’s opinion and interactions with anyone who did not fall into the prescribed binaries that stabilized the dominance of these religions.
But, beginning in the 1960s, queer peoples began to stand up and say NO to the abuse, murder and marginalization that they were experiencing.
The Compton Cafeteria Riots are not as well-known as the Stonewall Riots, but this protest played a pivotal role in allowing queer peoples to see that they do have a place in society.
As with many narratives on the struggle for freedom, transgender and non-binary actors in events are often marginalized, misrepresented or completely cut out of the stories. This is often true for the transgender and non-binary people who instigated the Compton Cafeteria Riots.
The Stonewall Riots are often characterized as the seminal moment when 2SLGBTQ+ people stood up against the tyranny that oppressed them.
But the Compton Cafeteria Riots preceded this event and gave a great deal of fuel to Ingnite the Stonewall fire.
The story of these brave trans women goes like this.
One of the few places that was open to transgender and non-binary people was San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. In this neighborhood was Gene Compton’s Cafeteria (informally known as Compton’s Cafeteria).
It became a haven for members of the transgender and non-binary community from the 1940s until its closure in 1972. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and served as a space off the streets for transgender people, drag queens, non-binary and other gender non-conforming individuals.
Some of these people were sex workers as society refused to allow many transgender and non-binary people to participate in commerce.
But even as Compton’s became a haven, police in San Francisco believed that they had a directive to harass, arrest for no reason and use excessive violence against the people who found refuge at Compton’s.
“Transgender women were often arrested for trivial ‘crimes’ that included ‘female impersonation’ and ‘obstructing the sidewalk’,” explains the memorial website for the Compton Cafeteria Riots. “Transgender women were regularly harassed, assaulted and demeaned by the police and the escalating anger at these ongoing abuses finally erupted in the summer of 1966.”
So, in the summer of 1966, a transgender woman, who was a patron of Compton’s, threw her cup of hot coffee in the face of police officer’s face.
The officer was attempting to make unwarranted arrest of the transgender woman. This sparked the riot that changed the lives of the 2SLGBTQ+ community forever.
This was the first ever recorded riot in the U.S. that involved queer resistance to social, political and professional oppression.
According to Screaming Queens, The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (a 2005 documentary by Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker), the attempted arrest was instigated by a Compton’s employee and resulted in a mass revolt by the transgender women and men and non-binary people.
They threw their purses and their high heels at police causing them to run outside to call for backup. The protest led to a police vehicle being overturned and a newsstand being burned down. Police fought back and placed many of the protestors into paddy wagons.
Compton’s went on to ban customers who were transgender and non-binary. This led to a more organized protest of Compton’s the following day after the initial riot. Eventually, business died for Compton’s when it turned its back on the trans community, closing its doors in 1972.
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The role of people of color and of transgender and non-binary people will continue to play out in the Stonewall Inn Riots that took place in New York a few years later. Check back with KHON2.com on Wednesday, Oct. 11 for Part 2 of how Pride began.