April 6, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Los Angeles’ Cooper Donuts gay riots sparked a revolution 10 years before Stonewall

cooperdonuts-from-theexilesBY CHRISTIANA LILLY  |  It was a torrent of doughnuts and coffee that kicked off the LGBT-rights movement.

Sure, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City get all the glory, but ten years earlier there was a small, nearly forgotten uprising to which the movement’s roots can also be traced: Cooper Donuts in Los Angeles.

Like their New York counterparts, the Los Angeles Police Department often targeted LGBT people through entrapment, intimidation, and violence. Police specifically targeted trans people, arresting those whose perceived gender did not match their driver’s license. Several gay bars, in an attempt to remain inconspicuous and avoid police raids, banned or discouraged transgender people from entering. However, Cooper’s Donuts, which opened in 1959 in the Skid Row neighborhood, was welcoming to the transgender community. The shop served policemen during the day and, as the patrols dwindled in the evening, opened its doors to trans people and those barred from other establishments.

One evening, two police officers asked for ID cards from some customers at the shop — a typical way for them to harass LGBT people. Those who were picked out of the crowd, including John Rechy, an accomplished gay author who has written about the uprising, were “two hustlers, two queens and a young man just cruising.”

Something snapped in one of them; enough was enough. He objected to the car being packed with five people and fought back, leading the customers at the donut shop to flood into the streets, throwing coffee cups, trash, spoons, donuts, anything they could get their hands on.

“[The officers] fled into their car,” Rechy writes, “called backups and soon the street was bustling with disobedience. Gay people danced about the cars.”

The officers returned with reinforcements, Main Street was closed, and history was made. However, the importance of the Cooper’s Donuts uprising was not recognized until much later.

Mark Thompson, a social historian who lived in the same neighborhood as Rechy, writes of the event’s importance: “I would not describe it as a riot but more like an isolated patch of local social unrest that had lasting repercussions. I think less in its day, more as a lesson for us today. L.A. is such a huge, sprawling city (even back then) so what happened in one district probably did not register elsewhere — especially when issues of class and race are factored in.”

Not too much is known about the uprising at Cooper’s Donuts, and as time passes, fewer of the storytellers of the time are around to share their experiences. But it is important to remember that the fight for LGBT rights was not limited to one city and one event. The Cooper’s Donuts uprising, like the Compton Cafeteria riots, the Dewey’s sit-ins, and the Independence Hall protests, helped pave the way for Stonewall and for all the victories the community has seen since.

Christiana Lilly’s foray into journalism began at 11, when she put together a one-page gazette for classmates recounting field trips, announcing the lunch menu and other important news. Today, she’s a freelance journalist who covers a plethora of topics, including contributing regularly to South Florida Gay News. There, she covers health, religion, law and activism impacting the LGBT community. She has won multiple awards for her coverage, including stories on conversion therapy and youth homelessness. Christiana grew up in Asia as the daughter of a foreign service officer, and now calls Fort Lauderdale home with her fiancé.

 

Related Posts

Q&A: Being Openly Gay at LA Opera

February 3, 2020

February 3, 2020

The scene: Eurydice always imagined that her wedding day would be a day she’d never forget. But after a tragic...

USC One Archives to Host Screening of Film on Black Trans Woman to Honor Black History Month

February 1, 2020

February 1, 2020

Meet Mary Jones, a black transgender woman born in New York in 1803. Described as a “man-monster” in the press. ...

HEALTH FEATURE: Need a Podiatrist?

January 26, 2020

January 26, 2020

Dr. Steven L. Rosenberg treating foot injuries with traditional, regenerative and homeopathic medicine.  By Staff Writer If you suffer from...

VIDEO: South Coast Chorale’s Tribute to Gay & Civil Rights Activist

January 24, 2020

January 24, 2020

67 years ago, openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay “lewd conduct” charge for...

GUEST COLUMN: Queer Mindfulness Meditation

January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

InsightLA is a non-profit meditation center offering practices of mindfulness and compassion that are both secular and Buddhist in origin. ...

Honoring Gay Rights & Civil Rights Activist Bayard Rustin

January 21, 2020

January 21, 2020

On this day in history 67 years ago, gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay...

WeHo Dodgeball at the Sin City Classic LGBTQ+ Sports Festival

January 17, 2020

January 17, 2020

Hosted annually by The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA), Sin City Classic brings together the United State’s finest athletes for a...

LONG BEACH PRIDE Unveils New Logo, Drops “Lesbian & Gay” From Name

January 16, 2020

January 16, 2020

Formerly known as  the Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride, the new and improved Long Beach Pride – the organization...

LGBTQ+ Ally Taylor Swift to Receive GLAAD’s Vanguard Award

January 7, 2020

January 7, 2020

GLAAD announced Tuesday, Jan. 7 that Taylor Swift with receive the Vanguard Award at the 31st Annual GLAAD Media Awards. ...

PLAY PREVIEW: A Queer Tribute to Frida Kahlo

January 3, 2020

January 3, 2020

Frida Kahlo was born July 6, 1907 and died July 13, 1954. Her death certificate alleges cause of death as “pulmonary...

How the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A. Keeps Going

December 24, 2019

December 24, 2019

The queer institution prepares for its 40th season In February of this year, the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A., one...

TRAVEL REVIEW: LGBTQ+ Family Vacation: Holiday Edition – Las Vegas

December 21, 2019

December 21, 2019

This column is the second in a reoccurring series about LGBTQ+ family travel. For a preview of this travel column,...

Long Beach Drag Queen Jewels to Be Awarded Key to the City

December 17, 2019

December 17, 2019

The first drag queen in Long Beach history will receive a Key to the City tonight.  Jewels is a household...

HEALTH FEATURE: Preventing Sudden Hearing Loss at Alexander Audiology

December 9, 2019

December 9, 2019

Santa Monica’s Dr. Melissa Alexander discusses sudden idiopathic hearing loss Sudden idiopathic hearing loss, or sudden deafness, is an unexplained...

“The L Word: Gen. Q” Can’t Come Soon Enough!

December 6, 2019

December 6, 2019

We are ready for you, “The L Word: Generation Q!”  A decade after the original series ended, “The L Word”...