The uprising of 52 years ago came after the drag queens, transgender women, and, to a lesser degree, LGB community of the Tenderloin district had been targeted and abused for years by the San Francisco Police Department.Often arrested for violating the city's anti–cross-dressing ordinance as well as the sex work they were often forced to do, the "screaming queens" erupted one night after one of their own was being hauled away from the cafeteria.Flames knows that AIDS and Stonewall — the New York uprising that came three years after Compton's — dominate the narrative of the modern LGBT rights movement, with mainstream films and TV shows documenting what happened there.
"Television shows where young kids transition; it makes me happy.
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At the end of the night, the queens would head to Compton's, at the corner of Taylor and Turk, to commiserate over coffee and a hot plate of food."Gene Compton's Cafeteria was open 24 hours a day," Flames says. Not organize, because we didn't give a shit about organizing. Our parents had thrown us out or didn't want a queer in the family and we didn't know where to go.
But when we heard about the Tenderloin and Compton's, we knew where to go."Whether because of the drugs she was dabbling in then or simply the fact that it was 50 years ago and never recorded for posterity, Flames can't remember if she was at the cafeteria when the violence broke out.
Targeting, improper arrests, and police violence remain a huge issue for LGBT people of color.
"Now there's more stuff for [LGBT] kids," she says.
To the press and public, LGBT people were so odious then — in '60s "peace and love" San Francisco, ironically — that even something as newsworthy as their street battle with police needed to be kept from innocent eyes."[LGBT] people were thrown out of hotels, they were stabbed, they had their breasts cut, they were mutilated because of their genitalia," remembers Felicia Flames, a self-described transsexual woman who frequented Compton's Cafeteria in the '60s and still lives in San Francisco.
"We were something that could be thrown away in a trash can."The police responded in kind to the public's disgust of sexual and gender minorities, Flames says. Thrown in jail for dressing like a woman, because in those days it was illegal.
The riot happened because, "We were tired of being arrested for nothing. Anything they could think of to make their quota or just to make our lives a living hell, they would do.""The Tenderloin was the gay mecca of San Francisco," says Flames, who came to California from Texas.
"Anybody and everybody who was [queer] came to San Francisco.
Additionally, Cecilia is the first transgender woman and first Asian to be elected to lead the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Celebration, and the first transgender woman as well as the first person living openly with HIV to Chair the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.