SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — This June, the City by the Bay can take a little bit more pride in Pride: a lot of historic firsts involving the LGBT community took place here.
While the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich village was the site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement, the first recorded uprising actually began three years earlier in San Francisco.
“In August of 1966, there was a riot at Compton Cafeteria in the Tenderloin,” recalled former San Francisco supervisor and LGBT activist Jeff Sheehy.
Gene Compton’s Cafeteria was located at Taylor and Turk Streets and it was one of the few places in the city where the transgender community — especially trans women — could gather in public.
On an August night in 1966, an SFPD officer entered the cafeteria and began to harass one of the customers.
“She ended up throwing a cup of coffee in his face and that started a three- or four-day riot,” explained LGBT activist Honey Mahogany.
The Compton Cafeteria riot is the first known instance of gay resistance against police violence.
POLITICS of PRIDE
Another first: Jose Sarria, the first openly-gay candidate to run for public office, lived in San Francisco.
In 1961, Sarria ran for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost but the pioneering gay-rights activist made history.
In 1977, Harvey Milk ran and won and also made a mark in the history books.
“Harvey became the first LGBT-elected official in California and was able to really let us see ourselves in a position of power,” remarked Sheehy.
THE AIDS CRISIS
The earliest days of the AIDS epidemic stoked widespread fear and ravaged the gay community in the Bay Area.
“There were my friends who were dying,” said former KPIX reporter Hank Plante who was one of the first openly-gay journalists in the United States.
“There was talk of quarantines, no real willingness or offer for care,” Sheehy remembered.
With AIDS hysteria gripping the nation, another first: San Francisco General Hospital created the nation’s first AIDS ward. Ward 5B became the model for compassionate care.
“Safe haven, a place of love. A place of no-judgment,” said AIDS activist Rita Rockett who was a volunteer in Ward 5B. For years, she served Sunday brunch to patients and their loved ones. KPIX 5 recently caught up with her on World AIDS Day.
“What we did was bring to light food for the soul,” Rockett recalled.
Another significant first began with what some in LGBT circles called an “act of betrayal.”
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as a legal union of one man and one woman.
“Which basically was the first federal legislation actively discriminating against our community and in response with a couple of friends, we drafted the equal benefits ordinance,” Sheehy said.
San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance passed and took effect in 1997.
Bottom line: If you wanted to do business with the city, you had to give same-sex couples the same benefits you offered to straight, married couples.
Tens of thousands of companies have complied.
“It dramatically changed the conversation between corporate America and the courts on same sex marriage,” said Sheehy.
Another historic first took place in 2004. Under the direction of mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco city and county officials defied California law and began issuing wedding licenses to same-sex couples.
KPIX assigned Hank Plante to cover the rush by same-sex couples to get married. Plante recalled how the line outside San Francisco City Hall defied media stereotypes of the LGBT community. He remembers thinking how they looked like everybody else in America.
“These aren’t drag queens, these aren’t people in leather! This looks like they are overweight, they don’t even go to the gym. This is what America looks like,” Plante laughed as he recalled the scene.
Another first: the rainbow flag, created in San Francisco.
“The rainbow flag, you know, is now a global symbol of our movement that happened for Pride in 1978,” said Sheehy.
The flag was created by San Francisco artist and activist Gilbert Baker, who died in 2017 at the age 65.
“Gilbert would always say (the flag) represents the freedom, the freedom to be who you are, to live without labels, to be able to love whomever you want to love in whatever way you want to love them,” said Sheehy.
There’s one more first that San Francisco wants to acquire: to be the first to achieve a program called “Getting to Zero,” which promotes the goal of zero new HIV infections and zero preventable HIV deaths.
Defense of Marriage Act
Equal Benefits Ordinance
San Francisco Same-Sex Marriage
Getting to Zero