The Black Cat Tavern was an LGBT bar, established in 1966, located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silver Lake district in Los Angeles, California. It was the site of one of the first riots in the United States protesting police harassment of LGBT people, and it preceded the Stonewall riots by over two years.
On the night of New Year’s Day 1967, several plain-clothes LAPD police officers infiltrated the tavern. According to Tangents – a local gay newspaper – undercover police arrived and started beating patrons as they were ringing in the New Year. After arresting several patrons for kissing as they celebrated the occasion, the undercover police officers began beating several of the patrons and ultimately arrested fourteen patrons for “assault and public lewdness.” The police used deliberate and excessive force during the raid to carry out explicitly homophobic state legislation that prevented queer folks from kissing and/or engaging in any sexual acts, and wearing clothing that did not match their socially prescribed gender role. One of the patrons was aggressively beaten in the head by a cop wielding a pool cue.
This raid created a riot in the immediate area that expanded to include the bar across Sanborn Avenue called New Faces, where officers knocked down the owner, a woman, and beat two bartenders unconscious.
Several days later, this police action incited a civil demonstration of 200 attendees to protest the raids on February 11, 1967. The demonstration was organized by a group called PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) – founded by Steve Ginsberg – and the SCCRH (Southern California Council on Religion and Homophile). The protest was met by squadrons of armed policemen.
Two of the men arrested for kissing were convicted under California Penal Code Section 647 and registered as sex offenders. The men appealed, asserting their right of equal protection under the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case.
It was from this event that the publication The Advocate began as a newspaper for PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education). Together the raid on the Black Cat Tavern and later the raid on The Patch in August 1968 inspired the formation of the Metropolitan Community Church.
On November 7, 2008, the site was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.