Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on July 25, 2016
Tenderloin, GLBT Museums Host Events For 50th Anniversary Of Compton's Cafeteria RiotPhoto: Henri Leleu, courtesy GLBT Historical Society.

One evening in August 1966, the Tenderloin's transgender community had had enough. After years of being marginalized by society and harassed by the police, a riot ensued at Gene Compton's Cafeteria, a favorite late-night hangout spot at 101 Taylor St.

The exact date of the Compton's Cafeteria Riot has been lost to time, and it saw much less publicity than New York's Stonewall riots, three years later. But San Francisco's queer and transgender community has not forgotten, and the Tenderloin Museum and the GLBT Historical Society will be honoring the riot's 50th anniversary with a series of special events running now through mid-September.

One of many Gene Compton's Cafeterias locations in the Bay Area.
Photo: Source unknown

The two organizations have teamed with veterans of the riot, as well as performers, historians, filmmakers and artists. Their events will honor not just the riot itself, but how life has changed over the past few decades for queer and transgender people. 

To kick off the series, the Tenderloin Museum is hosting a queer history walking tour and reception at their Eddy Street location this Thursday, from 6-8:30pm. The $5 tour, led by drag performer and Castro District tour guide Cruzin d'Loo, will focus on both the riot and overall LGBTQ history in the Tenderloin. The tour will end at 7pm, just in time to join a free public reception at the Tenderloin Museum.

Other events in the series include a discussion with Felicia Elizondo, who participated in the riot and was the Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal of the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade, and a screening at the Roxie Theater of Screaming Queens, an Emmy Award-winning documentary that helped elevate the forgotten riot into public consciousness.


Tenderloin Queer History Walking Tour & Kickoff Reception
Date: 6-8:30pm Thursday, July 28th
Location: Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy St.
Tour: $5
Reception: Free and open to the public

Starting at the Tenderloin Museum at 6pm, Cruzin d'Loo (the drag alter-ego of performer Kevin Wisney) will give an hour long walking tour of the LGBTQ history of the Tenderloin, centering on the Compton's Cafeteria Riot that took place at the now-famous intersection of Turk and Taylor Streets. The tour will return to the museum at 7:00pm. for a kickoff reception. Trans historian and award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Stryker and original "screaming queen" Felicia Elizondo will speak briefly to mark the occasion.


Cruising the Tenderloin in the 1960s: A Talk by Felicia Elizondo
Date: 7-9pm Thursday, August 4th
Location: GLBT Historical Society Museum, 4127 18th St.
Admission: $5; free for members

Felicia Elizondo, a self-described "Mexican spitfire, screaming queen, pioneer, legend, icon, diva, 29-year survivor of AIDS and Vietnam veteran" was one of the transgender participants in the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot. In 2015, she was named Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade. In this special multimedia presentation, she explores San Francisco's Tenderloin District in the 1960s to explain how the Compton's Cafeteria Riot was a defining moment in the struggle by a diverse gay and trans community to claim public lives and become who they were meant to be, paving the way for future generations.

Compton's 50th Anniversary Art Launch & Artist Talk
Date: 7-9pm Tuesday, August 16th
Address: GLBT Historical Society Museum, 4127 18th St.
Admission: $5; free for members

Launch party and artist conversation for Compton's 50th anniversary works by ceramic artist Nicki Green and interdisciplinary artist Chris Vargas, commissioned by the GLBT Historical Society. Green is producing a limited-edition signature coffee mug referencing both Compton's Cafeteria and the riot itself, while Vargas is hand-screening a numbered set of commemorative T-shirts from his own design. In conversation, the artists will discuss their creative processes and the relationship between trans history and art. Both works will be available for a limited time exclusively at the GLBT History Museum and the Tenderloin Museum.

Green is a trans-disciplinary artist whose work focuses on craft processes that document history and create legacy for marginalized communities. She has exhibited her work nationally, notably at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York City and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Vargas is an artist whose work deploys humor and performance in conjunction with mainstream idioms to explore the complex ways that queer and trans people negotiate spaces for themselves within historical and institutional memory and popular culture. Vargas also serves as executive director of MOTHA: The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria
Date: 7-9pm Thursday, August 18th
Address: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St.
Tickets: $12

Cosponsored by the Tenderloin Museum and the GLBT History Museum, a special 10th anniversary showing of the Emmy Award-winning 2006 documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria, followed by a Q&A with directors Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman. The film uncovered and popularized the then-forgotten 1966 riot at Compton's.

Susan Stryker is associate professor of gender and women's studies and former director of the Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona. A leader in the field of transgender studies, she is the author of many articles and several books on transgender and queer topics, most recently Transgender History (Seal Press 2008). She won a Lambda Literary Award for the anthology The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge 2006).

Victor Silverman is an award-winning filmmaker, historian and author. His current film, Getting High, is a provocative, feature-length documentary about his family's collision with drugs and alcohol set against a backdrop of American society's bitter conflicts around the "war on drugs." Silverman's latest book, coauthored with poet Laurie Glover, is California: On the Road Histories (Interlink, 2012).


Sex Work in the Tenderloin: Then and Now
Date: 7-9pm Thursday, September 1st
Location: GLBT Historical Society Museum, 4127 18th St.
Admission: $5; free for members

A panel discussion exploring how trans lives and sex work have changed in the last half-century in one of San Francisco's most dynamic neighborhoods. Speakers include Tamara Ching, a Compton's veteran and longtime advocate for trans and sex worker rights, and several advocates with St. James Infirmary, which since 1999 has provided free, confidential, nonjudgmental medical and social services for current and former sex workers of all genders.

Vanguard Revisited With Rev. Megan Rohrer
Date: 6-8:30pm Thursday, September 8th
Location: Tenderloin Museum, 
398 Eddy St.
Admission: Free and open to the public

In 2011, Megan Rohrer and historian Joey Plaster created a remarkable work of public history: Vanguard Revisited, which introduced the history of the 1960s radical queer-youth organization Vanguard to contemporary queer homeless youth, who created their own art and poetry zine in conversation with essays and themes from the original Vanguard newsletter. The new zine also featured archival materials, a historical narrative and writings from urban ministers and youth organizers.

For the 50th anniversary of the Compton's riots, a second issue of the Vanguard Revisited zine will be released, with new materials by the original authors and editors. For the Tenderloin Museum program, Rohrer will describe the initial process leading up to Vanguard Revisited and will discuss its legacy. Rohrer is the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and is a nationally recognized leader on issues of homelessness, gender, sexuality and faith.