Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 28, 2009



Tommi Avicolli

Doug Ireland Gay City News - Myth has it that the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village were the first open queer rebellion against discrimination. Not so. In 1965, the first queer sit-ins on record took place at a late-night Philadelphia coffee shop and lunch counter called Dewey's, which was a popular hangout for young gays and lesbians, and particularly drag queens and others with gender-variant attire. The establishment had begun refusing service to this LGBT clientele.

As an April 25 protest rally took place outside Dewey's, more than 150 patrons were turned away by management. But four teens resisted efforts to force them out and were arrested, later convicted on charges of disorderly conduct. In the ensuing weeks, Dewey's patrons and others from Philadelphia's gay community set up an informational picket line protesting the lunch counter's treatment of gender-variant youth. On May 2, activists staged another sit-in, and the police were again called, but this time made no arrests. The restaurant backed down, and promised "an immediate cessation of all indiscriminate denials of service."

In August 1966, there was a riot at Compton's Cafeteria, a 24-hour San Francisco eatery popular with drag queens and other gender-benders (this was long before the word "transgendered" was in use), hustlers (many of them members of Vanguard, the first organization for queer youth on record, founded some months earlier), runaway teens, and cruising gays. The Compton's management had begun calling police to roust this non-conformist clientele, and one night a drag queen precipitated the riot by throwing a cup of coffee into the face of a cop who was trying to drag her away. Plates, trays, cups, and silverware were soon hurtling through the air, police paddy wagons arrived, and street fighting broke out. Some of the 60 or so rioting drag queens hit the cops with their heavy purses, a police car was vandalized, and a newspaper stand was burned down. The Compton's Riot eventually led to the appointment of the first police liaison to the gay community, and the establishment of the first known transsexual support group in the US.

These are just two of the many nuggets of little-known or forgotten queer history to be found in "Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation," the new anthology edited by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, himself a veteran of the earliest gay liberation struggles, and today an activist, gender-bending performance artist, and writer well-known to San Francisco queers.


Anonymous Mairead said...

I find it annoying when gay men use 'she' and 'her' to refer to people who identify as men. It's just as annoying, and for the same reason, as when straight writers persist in referring to people who have undergone reassignment by the wrong (old) pronouns.

Someone who has undergone the reassignment process from M to F has every right to be referred to by 'she' and 'her' (and, of course, if from F to M, 'he', 'his' and 'him'). A drag queen has no such right, and the casual arrogance chaps my feminist butt.

June 28, 2009 2:33 PM  

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