From Compton's Cafeteria to Stonewall: How 50 Years of Protest Evolved Into Pride Month
June of 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of New York City's first Pride march, which took place one year after the 1969 Stonewall uprising. At the first New York City Pride parade, between 3,000 and 5,000 people marched. By 2019, 115,000 people would march in New York City's Pride parade, and an estimated 4,000,000 people would attend.
The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association credits Pride parades and marches around the world with contributing to the increased visibility of and attention paid to LGBTQ+ rights movements worldwide. Learn about where and how the protests and confrontations that are now commemorated annually at Pride first took place to better understand LGBTQ+ history and progress.
May 1959: The Cooper Do-nuts Riot, Los Angeles
What is often called one of the United States' first LGBTQ+ uprisings occurred at a Los Angeles coffee shop in May of 1959. Police went into Cooper Do-nuts, a place that was a well-known hangout where "gay men, transwomen, hustlers and drag queens" gathered. Police entered and demanded that patrons surrender their identification so they could compare the gender stated on the identification with each customer's appearance and gender presentation.
The police tried — and failed — to arrest anyone whose identification didn't match their presentation. The officers were forced out of the shop by onlookers who pelted them with garbage, doughnuts and cups of coffee. The confrontation in the coffee shop then spread into the streets, where it became a full-fledged riot. More police arrived to block off Main Street, and several protestors were arrested.
September 1964: Whitehall Induction Center Picket, New York
The United States military has a history of not just rejecting applications from gay men who sought to serve but also of outing those men by not keeping their draft records confidential. In September 1964, protestors picketed that practice outside the Armed Forces Examination and Entrance Station at 39 Whitehall Street in Manhattan.
Unlike the the Coopers Do-nuts uprising, which arose organically in response to police intimidation, the Whitehall Induction Center Picket was an organized protest against discrimination of gay men. Activists Randy Wicker and Craig Rodwell — who also initiated the Annual Reminder demonstrations starting in 1965 to inform Americans that LGBTQ+ people didn’t receive civil rights protections — organized the picketing.
Joined by members of the Sexual Freedom League, Wicker, Rodwell and eight other protestors marched outside the induction center. It took almost five more decades for the U.S. military to end its ban on allowing gay men and lesbians in the military.
August 1966: Compton's Cafeteria, San Francisco
Compton’s Cafeteria was a popular restaurant in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. It became a commonly frequented hangout for transwomen, drag queens and gay performers because it was open 24 hours a day. The restaurant’s workers often called the police on these patrons in an effort to prevent them from gathering.
On an early August morning in 1966, police were once again called to the restaurant. They began harassing and arresting customers for the crime of "female impersonation." One drag queen fought back by throwing coffee into an officer's face. After that, chaos erupted in the restaurant.
Sixty people threw dishes and furniture, smashed windows, chased police, destroyed a police car and set a newsstand ablaze. One day later, the owners of Compton's Cafeteria began refusing to allow gender non-conforming customers into the building. But they gathered and began protesting, eventually gaining attention from city officials who, two years later, established the National Transsexual Counseling Unit to assist the community in obtaining social, medical and psychological support services. Today, the Tenderloin neighborhood has a legally recognized transgender district.
February 1967: Black Cat Tavern, Los Angeles
Hundreds of protestors picketed outside the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district in February 1967. The protests were born early on New Year's Day when armed undercover police charged the tavern and beat revelers using pool cues and clubs.
Men who'd shared a New Year's Day kiss were arrested. They were charged with and convicted of lewd conduct. Drag queens were also arrested. But despite stemming from police brutality, the February 1967 protests that resulted from the initial raid were peaceful. In the weeks following the Black Cat incident, hundreds of protestors began picketing outside the tavern, despite further police harassment, and stayed for several days.
The Black Cat protests are credited with inspiring the growth of the United States' first national LGBTQ+ news magazine, The Advocate. Prior to the Black Cat riots, it was a local newsletter, but it soon grew to become The Los Angeles Advocate and later The Advocate.
August 1968: The Patch Bar, Long Beach
The Patch Bar's clientele included gay men and women, and even local roller derby participants. Police had warned bar owner Lee Glaze that they'd shut the bar down unless he ended the drag performances and prevented men from dancing with each other. Glaze gave up trying to enforce the police's rules; they were costing him business. He took a new tack. When Glaze saw undercover officers in the bar, he played "God Save the Queen" on the jukebox to warn patrons.
In August 1968, Long Beach police began demanding to see patrons’ identification and threatening to arrest visitors at The Patch. Glaze reportedly leaped onto the bar, yelling: "It's not against the law to be homosexual and it's not a crime to be in a gay bar!" Chants let loose throughout the club. Two men were arrested, but the dancing that night never stopped.
Glaze promised to pay bail and legal fees for anyone who’d gotten arrested, and then went to the police station along with 25 other people. There was a protest, but not the kind you might expect. Glaze had bought out a flower shop owned by one of The Patch's patrons, and he handed out flowers to the people who accompanied him to the station. It came to be known as The Flower Power protest as the group held onto their flowers while occupying the station until a bondsman arrived and the arrested men were released.
June 1969: Stonewall, New York City
The Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village didn't have a liquor license or running water. But it was the only "homophile bar" — "homophile" being a dated term for gay people — in New York that allowed dancing. Stonewall attracted Latino, Black and white patrons in addition to gay men and women, trans people, drag queens, sex workers and people who lived in a local park.
For years, New York police had been trying to entrap gay men and other queer visitors in bars, and this came to a head early in the morning on June 28, 1969. Police raided the Stonewall Inn with the intention of "taking the place." Patrons inside Stonewall didn’t back down; instead, they fought back, attracting a large crowd quickly. That crowd erupted when police beat a handcuffed woman and threw her into the back of a police wagon because she objected to the tightness of her handcuffs. Led by trans activist and icon Marsha P. Johnson, the crowd started throwing bottles and stones, trying to flip the police wagon and setting garbage cans on fire. Although this initial event only lasted a few hours, protestors returned for the next three nights.
In the aftermath of Stonewall, the Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front were formed to propel the progress forward. The movement that sparked in Los Angeles in 1959 was, by the end of 1969 in New York City, a determined force for progress.
June 1970: Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, New York City
On the one-year anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall raid, the first Pride parade was held in New York City. It wasn't called a Pride parade yet; it initially was a march held during Christopher Street Liberation Day. This event was part of the first Gay Pride week and was intended to commemorate the Christopher Street uprisings — an alternate name for the Stonewall uprising based on the name of the road where the Stonewall Inn is located. As many as 5,000 people marched at this demonstration — which came to be known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade — that was meant to protest the centuries of abuse gay people had endured.
Pride parades are now held in at least 60 countries worldwide. While enjoying the moment — and the growing freedom to enjoy it at all — hold a thought for the protestors over the last 60 years who made it safe (or at least safer) to be publicly proud, and take a moment to commemorate the hard-fought battle for that freedom.