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The Transgender Rights Movement: From Compton's Cafeteria to Today

October 28, 2022


Transgender Movement

It's been over 50 years since the historic 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, which is widely considered to be one of the first protests by the transgender community. At the time, transgender people were routinely harassed and mistreated by both the police and society at large. The riot at Compton's Cafeteria was a watershed moment that helped spark a nationwide movement for transgender rights.

In the years since the transgender community has made significant progress in terms of visibility and acceptance. While there is still much work to be done, the transgender rights movement has come a long way since those early days of protest at Compton's Cafeteria. Here's a look at how far we've come and what challenges still lie ahead.

The 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot

On August 12, 1966, transgender people and drag queens gathered at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco to protest police brutality. The riot began when police tried to arrest one of the protesters and things quickly spiraled out of control. The crowd threw cups and plates, smashed windows, and set fire to the restaurant. It was a spontaneous act of resistance against years of oppression and mistreatment.

The riot at Compton's Cafeteria is widely considered to be one of the first protests by the transgender community. Before this incident, transgender people were largely invisible in society and often faced harsh treatment from both the police and the general public. The riot helped spark a nationwide movement for transgender rights that is still going strong today.

The Rise of Transgender Visibility

Thanks to trailblazers like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were both involved in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the transgender community has slowly but surely been gaining visibility over the past few decades. Now, this visibility has exploded thanks to high-profile trans celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, as well as shows like "Transparent" and "Pose" which feature trans actors and tell trans stories. As a result of this increased visibility, more and more people are coming out as transgender or gender non-conforming. According to a 2017 study by the Williams Institute, an estimated 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This is nearly double the estimate from just 10 years prior. This increased visibility has led to greater understanding and acceptance of transgender people by the mainstream public.

The Increased Acceptance of Transgender People

As society becomes more accepting of transgender people, we are seeing more companies adopting policies that are inclusive of transgender employees and customers. In 2015, for example, Target announced that it would allow employees and customers to use the restroom or fitting room that corresponds with their gender identity. This policy change was met with both criticism and praise from different groups across the country. However, it shows that attitudes toward transgender people are slowly but surely changing for the better.

The Fight for Transgender Rights Continues

Despite all of this progress, there is still much work to be done in terms of achieving full equality for transgender people. For example, many states do not have laws protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations. This leaves many trans people vulnerable to mistreatment and harassment daily. In addition, trans people are disproportionately affected by poverty and violence; according to a 2015 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 29% of trans survey respondents reported living in poverty compared to 14% of cisgender survey respondents (cisgender refers to people whose gender identity matches their biological sex). And according to another study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, trans women—particularly trans women of color—are disproportionately affected by hate violence.

The transgender rights movement has come a long way since those early days of protest at Compton's Cafeteria in 1966. While there is still much work to be done in terms of achieving full equality for trans people, we have made significant progress in recent years in terms of visibility and acceptance. As society continues to become more inclusive of trans people, we can only hope that this progress will continue until all members of the LGBTQ community can live safe, happy, healthy lives free from discrimination or violence.

Written By: 

Kollyn Conrad


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March 20th 2023

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