It’s time to revive militant legacy of LGBT movement
Published Jul 3, 2006 3:27 PM
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Pride celebration was in many ways dedicated to
the Compton’s Cafe teria Rebel lion of 1966, a little-known battle against
police brutality and LGBT oppression that took place here three years before New
York City’s Stonewall Rebellion. However, trans and queer activists had to
work hard to ensure that the real heroes and struggles of the day were
Workers World banner at San Francisco LBGT Pride 2006.
WW Photo: Booh Edouardo
The Compton’s Cafeteria Rebellion was set off in
August 1966 after a police sweep of the Tenderloin and harassment of Latina,
Asian, Black and white trans people, at that time self-identified as drag
queens, in Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, a popular eating place.
cop harassed and tried to arrest one of the drag queens, outraged transgender
women, butch lesbians, gay men and others in the cafeteria fought back.
According to the 1972 Official Voice of the Christopher Street West Parade
Committee, “A police car had every window broken, a newspaper shack
outside the cafeteria was burned to the ground, and general havoc was raised
that night in the Tenderloin.”
It was a night of struggle that
transformed the early LGBT community in this city and gave rise to the early gay
liberation movement. And it is a history that has been buried for too
On June 22, members of the transgender community, including veterans
of the rebellion, gathered at the site of the old Compton’s Cafeteria to
commemorate the 40th anniversary of the rebellion. A plaque placed in the
pavement in front of the cafeteria site was unveiled. It reads in part,
“Here marks the site of Gene Compton’s Cafeteria where a riot took
place . . . when transgender women and gay men stood up for their rights and
fought against police brutality, poverty, oppression and
One of the people honored at this plaque
dedication, as well as throughout the weekend, was retired San Francisco Police
Sergeant Elliot Blackstone, who served as police liaison to the LGBT community
during the 1960s and 1970s. Blackstone was perhaps too effective in his
friendship and support of LGBT liberation, because in 1972 he was framed on
phony charges and eventually forced to retire from the police force. Unfor
tunately, in honoring Blackstone—an anomaly in an otherwise bigoted and
anti-gay police force—the SFPD felt welcome to send its top brass to the
commemoration. Their presence and statements, including a statement by Police
Chief Heather Fong, blurred and marred the true meaning of the day.
next speaker after the police was Leslie Feinberg, a well-known transgender
author and activist and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper. Surrounded
by police brass, Feinberg raised her clenched fist and said: “The struggle
against racism, police brutality, poverty, oppression and discrimination
continues today. I express my deep solidarity with the family and community of
Asa Sullivan, gunned down by cops here on June 6, and other victims of racist
police violence.” She also demanded an end to the gentrification and
destruction of the BayView-Hunters Point African American community by
redevelopers and the city government.
Feinberg also called for a
mobilization to pressure New York City Michael Bloomberg’s administration
and the New York Police Department to stop denying trans and
gender-non-conforming people of color the right to march down Eighth Avenue on
The second annual Transgender rights march here on June 23
brought out several thousand transgender, transsexual, intersex and
gender-variant people. While Feinberg was again a featured speaker at the rally,
District Attorney Kamala Harris and County Supervisor Bevan Dufty also spoke.
TIP, a transgender prisoners’ rights group, marched into the crowd with
picket signs protesting police brutality against the transgender community and
the continued use of “three strikes” sentences in San
A Workers World contingent carrying a banner reading,
“Stonewall Means Fight Back Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
Oppression,” was well received during the march that began at Dolores Park
and ended at the Civic Center.
The Dyke March on June 23 was the only
event that did not host any police or city officials. Rally speakers included
activists from the queer Arab and South Asian communities, as well as
anti-Zionist Jewish lesbians. Dyke March organizers received threats and
complaints from a local Jewish shopkeeper, but refused to allow any pro-Israel
speakers. Laura White horn, an anti-imperialist former prisoner, challenged
everyone there to fight for the freedom of all political prisoners and to join
the anti-war struggle. Tens of thousands of lesbians, led by Dykes on Bikes,
marched through San Francisco that night.
On June 25, while hundreds of
thousands of LGBT people from all over California and the country marched
through San Francisco, members of several organizations—including the
radical activist group LAGAI, QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism), and
the San Francisco Branch of Workers World Party—carried out an action at
the Civic Center to draw attention to the struggle of the Palestinian people for
liberation and the call for a boycott of World Pride 2006 in
QUIT members presented a parody of the company Estee Lauder,
one of this year’s LGBT Pride financial backers and a major supporter of
illegal Zionist settlements in Palestine. Coining the name “Estee
Slaughter,” the group handed out mock “Realityfold TM”sleep
masks exposing Estee Lauder’s role in supporting Israel, and called for
the boycott of World LGBT Pride, which will be held in Jerusalem in August.
Their action was so effective that the SFPD sent its cops to stop the
QUIT members and their supporters continued handing out the
anti-occupation masks until they were all distributed. The Workers World Party
banner—“No Pride In Occupation, Free Palestine, U.S. Out of
Iraq”—served as a backdrop for the protest and received many
supportive comments throughout the afternoon. Attempts by the police and parade
monitors to isolate this protest in a so-called “free speech zone”
of the rally area were ignored. “Do you think anyone at Stonewall paid for
a permit?” one QUIT activist asked the event staff.
by City Hall and some Pride organizers to water down this year’s
activities, words of militancy and liberation were still heard from the podium.
Leslie Feinberg reminded the crowd about the need for solidarity. Laura
Whitehorn directly followed with a strong message of struggle. She said the
prisons are filled with revolutionary political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal,
Leonard Peltier and Marilyn Buck. “It’s time to free all of the
political prisoners,” she said. Actor Danny Glover spoke on workers’
In a statement written for this year’s Pride Guide, Joey
Cain, president of San Francisco LGBT Pride, said: “Work to liberate our
people and extend the fields of freedom in all the regions of the human heart,
mind and body. Justice, equality, a place to live, health care and individual
dignity are human rights, not ‘market driven’
The police and City Hall and their supporters tried
once again to blur the lines of struggle—but the spirit and militancy of
the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria rebellions were clearly present
throughout the weekend’s LGBT Pride activities.
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