Sunday, April 27, 2003

More History

Here's some information about the 60s gay rights movement in San Francisco.

Throughout the early sixties, San Francisco remained a center of gay activism. Police extortion of gay bars became a scandal in 1961 when several bars refused to pay and went to court instead. In the aftermath, gay bar owners formed the Tavern Guild (1962) and worked cooperatively to fight police harassment. In 1964, several liberal ministers became concerned with homosexual rights and formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). Later that year, CRH sponsored a New Year's ball for the gay community. When the police showed up in force and arrested several of the ministers, the outcry that followed placed an effective restraint on police harassment.

In 1964, a new gay organization was formed in San Francisco, concerned with the development of the gay community, as well as political action. The Society for Individual Rights (SIR) opened a community center in 1966, sponsoring a wide range of social and cultural activities. SIR also held Candidate's Nights, in which local political candidates fielded questions from a gay audience. In New York, similar developments occurred. In 1968, the gay community won important concessions from the Lindsay administra-tion, reducing police pressure on gay bars. These early victories laid the groundwork for the mass coming out of gay people in the early 1970s, neutralizing the greatest, single obstacle to the gay community—police harassment.

More on SIR:

To raise funds for the fledgling organization, the ministers planned a New Year's Eve party for the gay community. In an era when the police arrested citizens and revoked liquor licenses for same-sex touching of the most innocent sort, holding a public gay dance was tantamount to a confrontation.

On the night of the dance, dozens of uniformed officers stalked California Hall, with police cars and paddy wagons parked in front. Police photographers took pictures of each of the 600 guests in a blatant attempt at harassment. Two days later, the ministers held a press conference condemning the police. They accused the police of "deliberate harassment and bad faith" and charged officers with "intimidation, broken promises, and obvious hostility." The police had overplayed their hand. ACLU lawyers, angered by the incident, took the case to trial. According to the Chronicle, "complaining officers sat with mouths agape" as the judge ordered the jury to return a verdict in favor of the gays. The ministers validated the charges of police harassment in a way that the words of a homosexual individual did not.

In August 1966, a Tenderloin cafeteria became the site of a showdown between gays and police. Compton's, at the corner of Turk and Taylor, was frequented by hustlers and queens, One night, a policeman grabbed at one of the queens, and rather than tolerating the harassment, she threw her coffee in his face. Fighting erupted as angry young gays broke out the windows, threw dishes and trays at the officers, and burned down a nearby newsstand. The next day, drag queens were barred from the cafeteria, and a picket line sprang up. That night, protesters smashed the premises' newly installed plate-glass windows.

Thus, almost three years before Stonewall, San Francisco's gay militancy was born.