SF supes OK landmark status for Compton's site

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 16, 2022
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Volunteers put the finishing touches on a Black Trans Lives Matter mural at the corner of Turk and Taylor streets in August 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
Volunteers put the finishing touches on a Black Trans Lives Matter mural at the corner of Turk and Taylor streets in August 2020. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve local landmark status for the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets in the Tenderloin and the facade of the old Compton's Cafeteria, site of a 1966 protest by trans people.

The November 15 vote followed a unanimous recommendation November 14 by the board's land use committee.

While the exact date has been lost to history, the August 1966 riot at the diner, which was frequented by LGBTQ people, was one of the first uprisings against police harassment by queer people, three years before the more famous Stonewall uprising in New York City.

The supervisors voted unanimously to approve the measure immediately following a lengthy discussion of the Draft Housing Element 2022 update. Supervisor Dean Preston (District 5), a straight ally, sponsored the measure, calling it a symbol of bravery.

"At Compton's Cafeteria, the queer community, in the face of state violence, stood up and said, no more," Preston stated in a news release. "That act of courage and bravery has reverberated over time and generations, and has inspired countless marginalized people, especially in the queer community, to demand respect, equal treatment and self-determination. I am proud that the city will recognize this historic site for generations to come."

A few people addressed the committee hearing, expressing their gratitude for the measure. One speaker, identified as Yaya Day Mendoza in the meeting transcript, applauded the decision, saying that it "would bring culture back to the area."

The decision to pass the measure "would mean a lot to us in the district," added Mendoza.

The measure had been steadily wending its way through the various committees and designations needed to preserve the spot — the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets, as well as the facade of the former Gene Compton's Cafeteria — since being introduced in April by former District 6 supervisor Matt Haney, who resigned from the board in May after he was elected to the state Assembly. The ordinance approved Tuesday needs a second and final vote at the board's next meeting on November 29.

The effort was inherited by Preston after the Tenderloin, including the Turk and Taylor streets intersection, was moved into District 5 as a result of redistricting. Preston's office then contacted the Transgender District's leadership to find out which issues were on their agenda. The landmark designation was one, and Preston adopted sponsorship of the resolution. Supervisors voted to support the measure without comment in June, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

This is not the first recognition of the site by the city, however. A sidewalk plaque denoting the Compton's Cafeteria riot was installed outside the former diner in 2006, the text of which was written by trans man Jamison Green, he stated in a recent email to the Bay Area Reporter. In 2016, the city christened the 100 block of Taylor Street as Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way to honor the 50th anniversary of the historic riots that occurred at the long-gone diner. Former District 6 supervisor Jane Kim had authored the honorary street renaming proposal, meaning it did not change the postal addresses of the businesses and residences located on that block of Taylor.

Last month, the seven members of the California State Historical Resources Commission, meeting virtually from all over the state, voted 6-0 to nominate the site of the 1966's Compton's Cafeteria riots for addition to the federal registry. The recommendation will next be forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Officer for nomination to the National Register, with a final determination to be made approximately 45 days after its receipt by the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C.

The significance of that space might have been lost were it not for the work of Susan Stryker, Ph.D., a transgender scholar whose academic and historical research focuses on sexuality and gender.

The riot had largely been forgotten until Stryker, poring over materials at the GLBT Historical Society archives in 1991, ran across an item detailing an August 1966 event: "Drag queens protest police harassment at Compton's Cafeteria."

That launched Stryker on a yearslong venture to uncover the events at the former Gene Compton's Cafeteria, which took place three years before the better known Stonewall Riots in New York City. After years of research, Stryker released her 2005 documentary, "Screaming Queens," with interviews with some of the women who were present at the riot that night, along with other trans people.

"I'm thrilled that my research into the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot helped lay the groundwork for recognizing the contributions trans people have made to San Francisco's history," Stryker wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter back in August. "The inspiring legacy of resistance to social oppression manifested in the streets of the Tenderloin is something we'd do well to remember and draw upon amidst the current anti-trans backlash."

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