On this 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which took place June 28 – July 1 in 1969, it’s a good time to look back at the ways lesbian, gay, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual people in the United States shaped the country’s history and fought for political gains.
Stonewall is seen as a major turning point and spark in the gay and trans liberation movement, but it wasn’t the beginning! LGBTQIA people were surviving and creating vibrant local cultures in numerous enclaves across the country, and the Bay Area especially has a rich history of LGBTQIA culture, activism, and movement building prior to 1969.
Three years before the Stonewall riots, in August of 1966, Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district became one of the first sites of collective, violent resistance to the oppression of trans, queer, and gender-nonconforming people. These events came to be known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots. Watch the documentary Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria to meet the “street queens, cops and activist civil rights ministers who recall the riot and paint a vivid portrait of the wild transgender scene in 1960s San Francisco.”
The James T. Hormel LGBTQIA archive at the San Francisco public library is a great place to view primary source documents including manuscript collections, pulp paperbacks, and video and audio recordings of queer and trans lives and experiences. They can really put you in the historical moment and illuminate the details of what it was like living in the Bay Area at the time. You might find more connections to the present day than you expect.
For a guided historical exploration, try San Francisco Public Library’s event where local co-curator Jim Van Buskirk will offer a visual timeline and talk about the many pioneering individuals, organizations, publications and activities in San Francisco during the 100 years leading up to the pivotal Stonewall Rebellion of 1969:
Tuesday, July 9, 6 – 7:30 pm
LGBTQIA Center, SFPL Main Library
100 Larkin Street
You can also explore California’s queer past, present, and future at the Oakland Museum’s current exhibition:
Queer California: Untold Stories
Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oakland St.
on display until August 11, 2019
“Experience powerful examples of social activism through contemporary artwork and historical materials and view rarely-seen artifacts, archival documents, photographs, costumes, and ephemera such as zines, stickers, and flyers. The exhibition aligns important milestones in LGBTQ+ culture with lesser-known stories, focusing on a diversity of queer identities, civil rights, and resistance to oppression.”
And if you are planning further research into the history of LGBTQIA people, whether in California or beyond, here are some California archives with extensive collections:
GLBT Historical Society
989 Market Street, San Francisco
Bay Area Lesbian Archives
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries
909 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA