Screaming Queens Chronicles the 40th Anniversary of Comptonâs Riots
Â The kick-off commemoration of the 40th year anniversary of the Comptonâs Cafeteria Riot was scheduled at the Metropolitan Community Church sanctuary. A screening of the recent documentary Screaming Queens by filmmakers Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman chronicles this historic time marking one of the beginnings of LGBT movement resistance. Three years before the famous rioting at New Yorkâs Stonewall Inn, a group of transgender women and gay street hustlers fought back for the first time in history against everyday police harassment. This was known as the 1966 Riot at Gene Comptonâs Cafeteria in the Tenderloin at Turk and Taylor in San Francisco.
âIt was the first time that people who were discriminated against because of their gender identity banded together to resist their oppression,â noted Stryker. âAnd it had results. In the years after the riot, trans activists and allies began to make real progress in meeting the unique social and medical needs of trans people.â
Commemoration activities were sponsored in part by Good Vibrations, San Franciscoâs legendary destination for accurate information about sex. âAs one of the top US employers of transgenders, Good Vibrations is proud to continue the fight for transgender equalityâa fight that was started 40 years ago at the Comptonâs Cafeteria,â said Theresa Sparks, Good Vibrations General Manager and CFO.
In 1966, police raided Comptonâs Cafeteria, an all-night diner in San Franciscoâs impoverished Tenderloin neighborhood, and the transgender community fought back. Screaming Queens: The Riot at Comptonâs Cafeteria tells the virtually unknown story of this act of assertion that helped launch a broad movement for human rights and individual libertyâthree years before the more famous 1969 gay riots at New Yorkâs Stonewall Inn.
Screaming Queens introduces viewers to a diverse cast of former prostitutes, drag entertainers, police officers, ministers, and neighborhood activistsâall of whom played a part in the events leading up to the Comptonâs Cafeteria riot. Mixing recent interviews with archival footage skillfully researched by famed archivist Susan Styker, the program depicts a marginalized group few people knewâone that existed in the midst of a city famous for its openness to diverse communities.
The riot began after years of torment and harassment by corrupt police in the âLoin. One particular night, a cop tried to strong-arm a tranny customer in Comptonâs and got a cup of coffee thrown in his face. This sparked a revolution among the drag queens and transsexuals in the cafĂ©, with people throwing sugar shakers through windows, overturning tables, and setting a patrol car on fire.
The interviewees, some of whom still live in the Tenderloin, express their differing points of view, telling of the difficulties they encountered in the Tenderloin, as well as the sense of community they created there in the mid-sixties. Felicia Elizondo tells of prostituting herself in order to survive. Aleshia Brevard, a drag entertainer, describes how her talent spared her from street prostitution. Others were not so lucky and had to live night by night in a dangerous profession, especially if it was discovered by the john that there was something extraneous under their skirts.
Perhaps most surprising is Sgt. Elliot Blackstone, who helps explain the conflict between the police department and San Franciscoâs transgender community, and how police policies changed to reflect greater acceptance in the years following the 1966 riot. Screaming Queens sets out to promote a better understanding of the experiences of transgender people and to inform a broad audience of their often-difficult lives and unsung accomplishments.
Screaming Queens is written, directed, and produced by Victor Silverman, associate professor of history at Pomona College, and Susan Stryker, former executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. Jack Walsh, Emmy-award winning independent producer whose credits include Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay and Girl Trouble, is also a producer.