In 1966, Gene Compton’s eatery in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district was the site of the first recorded incident of transgender resistance to police harassment. 1 The Compton Cafeteria riot broke out after police assaulted a drag queen inside the establishment; she responded by throwing coffee at them. This incident sparked an immediate reaction from other gender-variant, gay and lesbian people who frequented the restaurant. Rioters smashed windows, destroyed furniture, and set fire to a car. 2 This act of resistance to the state regulation of lived expressions of sex/gender identity lasted for the entire day, and picketing followed for another week. Those subjugated by norms regulating their sex, gender, sexuality, and occupation (many were sex workers) fought back against the disciplining of their lives. The well known Stonewall Riots in New York three years later were also led by trans people, as well as by butch lesbians and drag queens, fighting diligently against the police for the right to transgress sex/gender binaries in public spaces free from discrimination and violence.
By Dan Irving, 2008