01-01-1967

The Black Cat Bar

A police raid occurred at the BLACK CAT BAR, in the Silverlake area near Los Angeles, where some patrons fought back against the LAPD, fueling the formation of Gay Rights groups in California. The bar was located at 3909 West Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset Junction neighborhood of the Silverlake district in Los Angeles.

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. Two men arrested for kissing were later forced to register as sex offenders; one bartender suffered a ruptured spleen.

Violent police raids on queer bars were common in the ’60s, but this time the gays fought back. Not long after, on Feb. 11, 1967, and for several days after, more than 200 people peacefully marched at the Black Cat while heavily armed policed watched them. They demanded an end to Los Angeles Police Department intimidation, humiliation and brutality against gay people.

Moreover, the police raids and the subsequent protests at the Black Cat Tavern can be understood within the spatial and temporal context of the Sunset Strip curfew riots that took place during the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

Individuals protesting police raids spawned by homophobic sentiment were urged by speakers to make a “[…] unified community stand in Silver Lake against police brutality.” In other words, the riot at the Black Cat Tavern became a platform to discuss intersectional issues relating to the criminal justice system.

Historians of sexuality have detailed the significance of the Black Cat Tavern riots within the context of the mainstream LGBT Movement. Yet, the demonstrations never caught the attention of the popular media, and the Black Cat did not assume the role in queer history attributed to the Stonewall Rebellion two and a half years later.

The popular notion that the Stonewall Riots marked the very first time that LGBT folks “[…] fought back instead of passively enduring humiliating treatment,” is false. Other critical moments in LGBT History that pre-date Stonewall include:

  • New Year’s Ball Raid in San Francisco (1965)
  • Gene Compton’s Cafeteria Riot (1966)
  • Cooper Do-Nuts Riot (1959)