The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are arguably the most famous and impactful uprisings for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) rights. But they aren’t by far the first LGBTQ+ uprising. Various small uprisings predated Stonewall — some by more than a decade — to address harassment, often by police, and inequality.
1. 1958: Los Angeles – Cooper Do-Nuts Riot
After the nearby bars closed, the 24-hour Cooper Do-Nuts cafe on Main Street became the scene of a major riot one morning in May 1958. a young man just cruising and drove them,” a said the novelist and one of the hustlers John Rechy in his book night city.
Things quickly changed when angry bystanders began throwing Cooper’s debris and items at the cops, who eventually retreated to their car. The disobedience turned into a riot, and soon enough the police arrived. Officers blocked off part of Main Street for the night and arrested several of the rioters.
2. 1961: Milwaukee – Black Nite Brawl
On August 5, 1961, four party sailors walked into Black Nite, a popular gay bar on St. Paul Avenue in Milwaukee, on a dare. They started a fight with the bouncer, only to be kicked out of the bar by gender-nonconforming black “queen” Josie Carter, who knocked one of the men out with a bottle.
The men later returned with reinforcements and began tearing down the bar, but met stiff resistance from bar patrons. The sailors were arrested but the charges were later dropped due to “lack of evidence”. The bar suffered significant damage during the scuffle and was eventually demolished for the Avenue Saint-Paul extension.
3. 1965: Philadelphia – Sit-in at Dewey’s Restaurant
On April 25, 1965, the 17e The street location of Dewey’s restaurant in Philadelphia refused service to approximately 150 people who appeared to be gay or gender non-conforming. Three teenagers refused to leave and were later arrested, along with Clark Polak, leader of the homophilic organization Janus Society, after offering to help the group find a lawyer.
Members of the Janus Society demonstrated outside the restaurant for the next five days; on May 2, three more people staged a second sit-in at Dewey’s. This time the protesters were not arrested and instead voluntarily left the restaurant a few hours later. Dewey has agreed to stop denying service to LGBTQ+ people.
4. 1966: New York – Julius Tavern “Sip In”
In the spring of 1966, members of the first gay rights organization Mattachine Society organized a “sip-in” – a variant of the “sit-in” demonstration – during which they visited taverns, declared to be homosexual and waited to be deported in order to be able to prosecute. At the time, LGBTQ+ people could not have alcohol served to them in public, as liquor laws considered their gathering “disorderly.”
The group was eventually refused service at the Julius Tavern in Greenwich Village, which had been raided by police days earlier for serving gay people. This led to the rapid repeal of the state’s anti-gay liquor laws.
5. 1966: San Francisco – Compton cafeteria riot
Tucked away in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, Compton’s Cafeteria was a 24-hour restaurant and haven for trans women sex workers, who often faced intense violence from patrons and police. One day in 1966, an officer laid his hand on a trans woman at Compton’s – she responded by throwing her coffee mug in his face.
Chaos ensued with Compton patrons throwing cups, saucers and other catering items at police, who retreated until reinforcements arrived. A riot broke out as dozens of trans people, drag queens and gay men fought the police. They smashed windows, destroyed a police car and set fire to a newsstand. Drag queens hit the police with heavy purses. Eventually, however, the police arrested the women.
6. 1966-1967: Los Angeles – Protests at the Black Cat Tavern, Los Angeles
Opened in November 1966, Black Cat Tavern was a haven for Silver Lake’s queer community, which was harassed by police enforcing anti-homosexuality laws. On New Year’s Eve 1967, undercover cops tore up couples celebrating at midnight and began beating them. The brutality eventually spread to a nearby bar where police attacked the bar owner and two bartenders. By the end of the night, 14 people were arrested and two of the men were later forced to register as sex offenders for kissing.
Scroll to continue
On February 11, 1967, over 200 demonstrators formed a picket line outside The Black Cat Tavern to peacefully protest police abuse. Although many police officers were sent to the protest, it remained charged but peaceful.
7. 1968: Los Angeles – The Patch Bar “Flower Power” Protest
The Patch was an LGBTQ bar in Wilmington owned and operated by Lee Glaze. Glaze had a secret cue — he was playing “God Save the Queen” on the jukebox — to announce that police were entering the bar, giving patrons time to comply with discriminatory laws. On August 17, 1968, undercover cops left the bar and returned with several uniformed officers for backup, although it is unclear what prompted this action. They fanned out and began screening the crowd, looking for IDs that didn’t “match” the bearer’s outward appearance.
Ultimately, the police arrested two bar patrons for lewd conduct, enraging Glaze who knew the men were innocent. He led a crowd to buy massive amounts of flowers from a nearby shop owned by bar patrons. The crowd then proceeded to the police station and camped out in the waiting room, remaining until bail was posted for the arrested men.
Explore more of the history of the LGBTQ movement in America here.
Before Stonewall, the queer revolution started here in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Review.
Queer history was made at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles. VoiceNews.
Before Stonewall, the Black Nite brawl stunned Milwaukee. on Milwaukee.
5 LGBTQ protests that are setting the stage for Stonewall. Vice.
Different Fight, “Same Goal”: How the Black Liberation Movement Inspired Early Gay Activists. NBC News.
Philadelphia’s largest gay hangout refused service to 150 people in 1965 for simply “appearing gay”. Chronology.
The Compton Cafeteria Riot: A historic act of trans resistance, three years before Stonewall. The Guardian.
The black Cat. ONE Archives at USC Libraries.
The Patch Bar Flower Power Protest. ONE Archives at USC Libraries.
Armstrong, EA and Crage, SM (2006). Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth. American Sociological Review, 71(5), 724–751. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25472425