Thanks to the Stonewall uprising, New York's Greenwich Village has long been viewed as the flashpoint of the LGBT rights movement. While Stonewall — which occurred in the early hours of June 28, 1969 — will inorexably be tied to our annual Pride celebrations and the struggle for equality, it wasn't the first nor the last time we stood up to defend ourselves. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. (and New York, of course) all played important roles in the emerging gay and trans rights movements, even if at that time it meant simply being allowed a cup of coffee.
A group of drag queens and hustlers took action against the Los Angeles Police Department for arresting their friends for simply congregating in Cooper’s Donuts, a popular downtown LGBT meeting place. When police tried to haul away three gay patrons of Cooper’s, an angry mob pelted the officers with doughnuts, coffee, and paper plates until the cops were forced to retreat and return with backup. When the officers returned, a riot ensued, shutting down busy Main Street for an entire day. Read more here.
Five years before Stonewall, Randy Wicker, Jefferson Poland, and eight other members of the Sexual Freedom League, gathered outside the U.S. Army’s induction center at 39 Whitehall St. in New York City to protest the military’s antigay discrimination and complicity in witch hunts. While no one seemed to pay much attention to them that day, they paved the way for open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in the military, which eventually came in 2011. Watch Wicker speak about his advocacy work below and read more here.
A group of progressive Christians, civil rights activists, and gay activists formed a group called Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964. In order to raise money for the new organization, the group scheduled a costume party for January 1, 1965, and dutifully informed the San Francisco Police Department of their intentions; the police attempted to force the owners of the rented hall to cancel the event. Although the police eventually agreed not to interfere with the dance, guests arrived to find cops snapping pictures of them as they entered in an attempt to intimidate them. When the police demanded to enter, the council’s lawyers informed them it was a private event and they were not allowed in without a ticket. This caused the police to arrest the lawyers, which helped incite a brief riot. Read more here.
A Philadelphia coffee shop called Dewey’s was a popular late-night hangout for young gays, lesbians, and drag queens in the mid-’60s. When the establishment started refusing service to the LGBT patrons, a protest rally ensued; Dewey’s management turned away more than 150 customers while the demonstration raged outside. Four teens refused to leave and were arrested and later convicted of disorderly conduct. Over the next several weeks, LGBT locals formed a picket line and staged a sit-in. The restaurant finally backed down and promised “an immediate cessation of all indiscriminate denials of service.” Read more here.
On July 4, 1965, gay rights activist groups joined together under the collective name East Coast Homophile Organizations to picket outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, demanding legislation that would secure the rights of LGBT Americans. Four events followed on Independence Day, each called the Annual Reminder, with hopes America would be reminded that a large number of its citizens were actually denied the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A plaque now commemorates the work of the brave activists, and a reenactment is planned during the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony in Philly. Read more here.
It was illegal to cross-dress in San Francisco in 1966, and for men specificially, it was unlawful to “impersonate a female.” At the time, drag performers, transgender women, lesbians, and gay and bi men experienced regular harassment by police and local officials. The Glide Memorial United Methodist Church fought back against the mistreatment of LGBT people by organizing political action and picketing Compton’s Cafeteria, a Tenderloin establishment long known for mistreating its LGBT customers. After a transgender woman was arrested inside the restaurant, she threw her drink in the cop's face and other customers fought back, breaking windows, dishes, furniture, and damaging a police car outside. Read more here.
In the first minutes of New Year's Day, 1967, undercover police officers raided a popular gay bar in Los Angeles's Silver Lake neighborhood called the Black Cat and arrested men kissing each other and those dressed in drag. Those affected in the raid decided it was time to fight back and planned a protest, which became the first time LGBT people organized against police harassment. Because this happened prior to the Stonewall riots, some believe the Black Cat protests are the real beginning of the LGBT rights movement. One thing is certain, this publication wouldn't be around without it; two men were compelled to start a gay newsmagazine, which could eventually become The Advocate, following the raid and protests. Read more here.
Committee for Homosexual Freedom Pickets: San Francisco
Two young gay men, Gale Whittington and Leo E. Laurence, were fired by their employers in 1969 after a picture of them embracing was printed in a small newspaper. Whittington worked at a freight company, the State Steamship Line, and he and Laurence picketed the company’s San Francisco offices every workday for several weeks. Though Whittington never got his job back, he and Laurence formed the Committee for Homosexual Freedom, which also picketed Tower Records after it fired a gay employee; the man was eventually rehired. Read more here.
San Francisco: The White Night Riots
After San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White shot Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk to death in 1978, a jury of 12 people the following year found White guilty of manslaughter, saving him from the death penalty, and gave him a light sentence of less than eight years in prison. LGBT San Franciscans and straight allies were enraged at the outcome and proceeded to march to the Civic Center to protest the decision. The protest turned into a riot, with people smashing windows and setting fire to police cars; in retaliation, police raided the Elephant Walk, a gay bar in the Castro, and beat many of the patrons. Read more here.