Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria
"Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria", a one-hour documentary, tells the story of a little-known 1966 uprising by transgendered people. When police raided Compton's Cafeteria, a popular all-night neighborhood hang-out in San Francisco's impoverished Tenderloin neighborhood, members of this minority group fought back against unfair harassment–the first time they had resisted such police intimidation. Though virtually unknown, this act of assertion helped launch a much broader fight for individual freedom and human rights by sexual and gender minorities in America, three years before the more famous Stonewall Riots in New York City. The program will foster a better understanding of the often-difficult lives and unheralded accomplishments of transgendered people. The program also illuminates the interplay of urban politics, community mobilization, and social services in creating the modern inner city. "Screaming Queens" tells a forgotten story of dramatic social change from the compelling perspectives of first-hand participants. The film's story focuses on the experiences of the rioters themselves, as well as the police and social-activist clergy members. It also follows historian Susan Stryker's rediscovery of the 1966 disturbance. At that time, transgendered people faced serious employment discrimination, police harassment, and other difficulties. The program's subjects describe the challenging circumstances and official misconduct that drove them to take militant action in the streets. "Screaming Queens" then follows the changes in police practices, social services, and self-image that came out of the conflict. Stryker finds that the riot, although not as large as New York's Stonewall conflict, was a dramatic turning point in a decades-long process of transgender community formation and political mobilization in San Francisco, a process that involved significant changes in medical practices, urban politics, neighborhood geography, and public consciousness. Screaming Queens is a co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and San Francisco-based public broadcasting station KQED.
Keywords: transgender, queer, film, history, United States
Associate Professor, Department of History and Program in American Studies, Pomona College