LGBTQ+ History Month: Cooper Do-nuts Riot

The Cooper Do-nuts Riot was a May 1959 incident in Los Angeles in which transgender women, lesbian women, drag queens, and gay men rioted, one of the first LGBT uprisings in the United States. The incident was sparked by police harassment of LGBT people at a 24-hour cafe called “Cooper Do-nuts”.
The cafe was located on Main Street in the Skid Row neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles between two gay bars, Harold’s and the Waldorf, and was a popular hangout for transgender people. There had been many LGBT customers at Cooper’s taken into custody before, and on the day of the riot, two police officers entered the cafe and asked patrons for ID, as LA law dictated at the time that if a person’s gender presentation did not match the gender shown on their ID they were taken to jail. The officers attempted to arrest several people. One of those arrested was novelist John Rechy, who wrote of the event in his novel City of Night. In his novel, Rechy describes the victims of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse on this night as a culmination of routine targeting of the LGBTQ community, and describes the area as teeming with hustlers and transvestites, who were routinely arrested and locked up by the LAPD just for being seen together on the street or in a raided bar.
After the detainees protested the lack of room in the police car, onlookers began throwing coffee, cups, and trash at the police until they fled without the arrestees in their car. When the police returned a riot ensued that shut down Main Street for an entire day. People took to the streets and police backup arrived blocking off the street for the entire night and arresting several people.
That night is widely considered to be the first gay uprising in modern history, seven years before the Black Cat Riot in L.A.’s Silverlake neighborhood, and ten years before the Stonewall Rebellion.

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