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Stonewall wasn’t the only LGBT riot

Lesser-known protests erupted in San Francisco

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LGBT riot, gay news, Washington Blade
Rioters outside San Francisco City Hall on May 21, 1979 responding to the verdict in the Dan White murder case. (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta via Wikimedia Commons)

With the 50th anniversary of the June 1969 Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village taking place this weekend, the compelling story of how LGBT people fought back following the police raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar will likely capture the attention this week of the LGBT community and its allies.

But those familiar with LGBT history point out that there were three other riots besides Stonewall in which LGBT people fought back against injustices by police, government officials, and society in general. All of them took place in San Francisco.

Compton’s Cafeteria Riot

One of them, known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, took place in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood in August 1966, three years before Stonewall. Those familiar with it say it was led by LGBT people known then as drag queens and “cross dressers” but who today would be known to be transgender women.

Many of them hung out at the late night cafeteria, which operated as a restaurant.

According to an account by transgender historian Susan Stryker in her 2008 book “Transgender History,” the cafeteria’s trans customers and their gay male friends were frequently harassed by the cafeteria’s management and by police in the early and mid-1960s.

At the time, so-called “cross-dressing” was illegal in San Francisco, and police and local regulatory agencies often threatened to close bars or eateries like Compton’s for allowing such people to patronize their establishments.

Stryker reports in her book that the Compton’s Cafeteria riot was triggered when a police officer attempted to arrest a trans woman inside the cafeteria and she responded by throwing the coffee she was drinking in the officer’s face.

That act of defiance, coming on the heels of years of harassment by the police, prompted other trans people and their friends to “erupt,” Stryker wrote. People began to throw dishes and furniture and the cafeteria’s plate glass windows were smashed. When police reinforcements rushed to the scene the fighting spilled into the street, where people smashed the windows of a police car and set a sidewalk newsstand on fire.

Stryker, who also co-produced a documentary film on the riot called “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria,” reports that more than a dozen people were taken away by police in paddy wagons that night.

She reported that on the next night more transgender people, sex workers, Tenderloin neighborhood “street people,” and LGBT people in general returned to the scene to picket Compton’s Cafeteria after learning the management had banned transgender people from going back to the establishment.

In what observers consider an important pre-Stonewall development for LGBT rights, trans and LGBT youth under the guidance of the progressive Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco formed a group that staged protests over the next year or two against police harassment of trans and gay youth in the Tenderloin area.

White Night Riots 

What has become known as the White Night Riots erupted in San Francisco on May 21, 1979 hours after news broke that a jury had rejected prosecutors’ call for a first-degree murder conviction for the man who assassinated gay rights icon and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and the city’s pro-LGBT mayor George Moscone.

To the shock and horror of San Francisco’s large LGBT community and its allies, the jury instead convicted ex-police officer and former supervisor Dan White of voluntary manslaughter for the two killings, prompting a judge to sentence him to seven years and eight months in prison. With good behavior, he would be eligible for release after serving just five years.

Legal observers said the jury appeared to have been persuaded by the defense attorneys’ argument that White suffered from an impaired mental state due to depression and the excessive consumption of fast food, which later became known as the “Twinkie defense.”

Police and prosecutors said White shot Milk and Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978 multiple times in the head and body execution style with a handgun inside their offices at City Hall, which White entered through an unguarded door he knew about as a former supervisor.

According to accounts by the media and by longtime LGBT and AIDS activist Cleve Jones, who worked on Milk’s staff and who was present during the riots, the LGBT community responded to the news about White’s verdict by organizing a peaceful protest in the city’s largely gay Castro neighborhood.

What started with about 500 people quickly grew to 1,500 as the protesters marched through the streets and swelled to more than 5,000 as the crowed reached City Hall in what observers described as an angry mood that took on the air of a mob.

Media accounts say some in the crowd began to smash the windows and glass front doors of the City Hall building as several of Milk’s friends and longtime supporters attempted to hold the crowd back. Although police officials said later that the large number of police officers dispatched to the scene were directed to hold back the crowd, many officers waded into the crowd and attacked the protesters with nightsticks, inflaming what was already a volatile situation.

The police action prompted angry protesters to begin smashing the windows of police cars and setting them and other cars on fire by tossing lit matchbooks into the cars, causing the gas tanks to explode. At least a dozen police cars and eight other cars were destroyed that way before the rioting ended later in the evening.

Media reports said at least 61 police officers and an estimated 100 or more protesters or members of the public were hospitalized as a result of the rioting. Additional people were injured, media reports said, when a group of police officers disobeyed orders from the chief of police not to retaliate and raided a gay bar in the Castro neighborhood later in the evening.

Witnesses said the renegade officers, who placed tape over their nametags and badges, smashed the Elephant Walk bar’s windows and attacked its patrons for about 15 minutes. They then went out on the street and attacked others they believed to be gays who participated in the rioting.

Further LGBT organized protests took place in the following days that did not trigger violence. One of the later protests drew more than 20,000 people who assembled peacefully at Castro and Market Streets. The city’s then mayor, Dianne Feinstein, and gay Supervisor Harry Britt, who replaced Milk on the Board of Supervisors, vowed to take steps to protect the rights of LGBT people and curtail anti-LGBT violence.

AB 101 Veto Riot

The last of the three known other LGBT riots took place in San Francisco on Sept. 30, 1991. Similar to the White Night Riots, it was triggered by breaking news earlier that day.

Then-California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) vetoed a major gay rights bill approved by the state legislature known as Assembly Bill 101, which called for banning employment discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation. Wilson initially suggested he would sign the legislation, but political observers said he changed his mind at the behest of his party’s religious right faction and other conservatives whose support he needed for his re-election bid.

Several thousand outraged LGBT activists and their supporters marched from the Castro district to a downtown state office building to protest Wilson’s veto. The crowd far outnumbered startled police officers, who were not expecting such a large turnout. According to media reports, a small number of protesters smashed the building’s first floor windows and door, entered the building and started a fire that was quickly extinguished by firefighters but which resulted in more than $150,000 in damages.

That same week about 2,000 angry LGBT protesters in Los Angeles marched from West Hollywood to the Los Angeles Museum of Art, where Wilson was attending an opening of an exhibition of Mexican art, according to the L.A. Times. The protesters stopped short of rioting but set a California state flag on fire and burned Wilson in effigy, the Times reported.

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Television

Thrilling ‘Interview’ revives Rice’s beloved ‘Vampire’ in style

AMC’s lavish and loving retelling will thrill fans of original books

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Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson bring Anne Rice’s iconic supernatural heroes to life again. (Photo courtesy AMC)

Today, sexy vampires are a staple of pop culture, but it hasn’t always been that way.

Up until the last few decades, vampires have been mostly interpreted as a metaphor for the dangers of an uncontrolled libido, and were accordingly depicted in horror fiction as monsters to be resisted and destroyed, no matter how alluring they might seem.

Anne Rice changed all that. 

Before “True Blood” or “Twilight,” or any of the other popular vampire fantasy sagas that have played on the more seductive aspects of the vampire mythos, her 1976 debut novel “Interview with the Vampire” paved the way by forcing readers to identify with its “evil” narrator. Suddenly, the monster was the hero of his own story instead of the villain in someone else’s, allowing us to embrace our vicarious participation in his sensual pleasures and face a fact we all suspect in our hearts to be true: that given the chance, each and every one of us would probably choose to be a vampire.

That can be a disturbing revelation for some, and Rice’s book wasn’t an instant hit; reviews from critics, who weren’t ready to see the ocean of counter-cultural nuance beneath the shocking and gory details of the plot, were mostly dismissive. Readers, however, were more responsive, and Rice’s fan base grew enough to make the book’s first sequel (1985’s “The Vampire Lestat”) into a bestseller. The author – who passed away at 80 last December – would eventually pen a total of 13 books in a series that became known as “The Vampire Chronicles,” and her fans have remained loyal – some might even say obsessive – to this day.

That, of course, means that AMC’s new series adaptation of Rice’s seminal book – which premiered on the cable network with its first two episodes on Oct. 2 – is guaranteed a sizable built-in audience. It also means that the series must live up to a very high standard if it wants to keep those fans watching.

So far, despite a few notable divergences from the source material, things look promising.

Like Rice’s novel, the series centers on Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), a vampire who – for his own inscrutable reasons – decides to tell his life story to a young reporter. In the re-imagined scenario constructed by show creator Rolin Jones, however, there have been some updates. Fifty years later, Louis feels he was not ready to be completely honest during that original interview in the 1970s, and he has endeavored to bring the same reporter – now a seasoned veteran journalist battling Parkinson’s disease (Eric Bogosian) – to his sumptuous headquarters in Dubai so that he can set the record straight.

The tale he tells – beginning with his mortal life as the scion of a wealthy Louisiana family and his transformation by the amoral yet charismatic vampire Lestat (Sam Reid), to whom he then becomes lover and companion – remains largely the same, in broad swaths. The updated premise, however, allows for some not-so-minor changes in the details– not the least of which is making its protagonist a person of color, a successful New Orleans businessman of Creole descent instead of a wealthy white plantation owner with slaves, which refreshes its relevance for a 21st century audience while expanding the scope of the themes enfolded within the gothic architecture of its plot.

Besides bringing America’s troubled relationship with race into the forefront of the story, the show’s “faithful with license to adapt” approach allows it to unequivocally express the queerness that made the book and its sequels a touchstone for countless LGBTQ readers across the years. Though later installments in the chronicle were more directly candid about the nature of Louis’s relationship with Lestat, the original book never quite allowed its conflicted hero to fully own his sexuality. Jones’s show corrects for that, cementing the connection between Rice’s brooding, sexually fluid vampires and the millions of queer fans that have seen themselves reflected in the pages of Rice’s books all along.

Such bold efforts to reinvent the story for a new era might well raise hackles among Rice’s fans, some of whom may decry the changes as unnecessary capitulations to a modern “woke” sensibility that seems far away from the unapologetically hedonistic worldview at the core of Rice’s books. Yet even the most hardcore Rice lovers will find themselves hard-pressed to complain about the way the series leans hard into the power of Rice’s literary gifts.

Blessed by its episodic long-form narrative with the ability to take its time, the show gives us lengthy, rapturous sequences in which the author’s lushly romantic, searing and passionate prose – or language inspired by it – becomes the main attraction. It’s here where the qualities that made Rice’s vampire books speak so thrillingly to its readers are allowed to work their magic on viewing audiences, too; though the story’s more concrete elements – the meticulous evocation of its period setting, the lurid abandon of its sexuality, the merciless savagery of its horrors – all do their part in bringing us to the table, it’s these florid, rapturous stretches of narration accompanying the visuals, spoken with mellifluous and impassioned conviction by Anderson, that allow us to partake of the feast being served there. In the poetry of these passages, we are drawn into the vampire’s world, and we are transformed without even having to be bitten.

That’s not to say the show’s imagery is not compelling in its own right – the climactic scene of episode one, a grand Guignol style symphony of gore that culminates in one of the most brazenly erotic moments in recent television memory, is alone enough not only to satisfy those who have come for the horror, but to make all but the most adamant Rice purists jump on board.

Likewise, the acting defies disappointment. Anderson, at once earthier and more deeply sensitive than his role in “Game of Thrones” gave us reason to expect, delivers a Louis that commands our attention, our respect, and our compassion; and though Reid’s shining Lestat remains just as much in his lover’s shadow as required by their roles in the narrative, he leaves no doubt of his ability to project the rock-star flamboyance and “rebel angel” fire required of his character in later installments of the chronicle. Rounding out the trio of main players (at least those we’ve seen so far), Bogosian’s world-weary, satchel-faced reporter makes a far more suitable stand-in for a 2022 audience than the naive youth of the book; cynical, mistrustful, yet somehow longing to be impressed, he’s heard this tale before – but something inside him needs to hear it again.

That feeling is something with which Anne Rice fans should be well familiar; they’ve been waiting decades for these beloved books to be adapted for the screen in a way that would do them justice. If the first two episodes of AMC’s lavish and loving retelling of them are any indication – and trust us when we tell you that they are – they might finally be getting what they want.

We should all be grateful for that. After all, it’s Halloween season, and sexy vampires are always welcome.

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a&e features

Netflix resurrects Dahmer, triggering criticism

Milwaukee gay activist says series re-traumatizes victims’ families

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Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994.

A 10-episode series on gay serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer released by Netflix on Sept. 21 captures in chilling detail Dahmer’s 13-year murder spree that took place mostly in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991 in which 17 young mostly gay men, 11 of whom were Black, lost their lives.

The dramatized series, with actor Evan Peters playing the lead role of Dahmer, shows how Dahmer met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars, lured them to his apartment by promising to pay them to pose for nude photographs, and drugged and strangled them to death before mutilating and sometimes cannibalizing their bodies.

The series, called “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has set a record for being the most watched first week release of any Netflix streaming series, according to media reports.

But one viewer who said he stopped watching the series after the first two episodes is longtime Milwaukee gay activist Scott Gunkel, who worked as a bartender at one of the gay bars where Dahmer met at least two of the young men he murdered.

Gunkel, 62, told the Blade he and others of his generation who lived through the trauma of the Dahmer murder spree view the Netflix series as yet another movie rehashing a troubling and painful occurrence.

“It really won’t, I don’t think, aid anybody,” he said. “I don’t think the victims’ families and friends will want to watch and hear this. So, this is just re-victimizing the people that went through this personally.”

Added Gunkel, “I knew a couple of the people he killed – patrons of the bar. They weren’t close friends. I just happened to know that they came to my bar, and I served them drinks.”

“There has been a big effort to have people boycott Netflix over this,” Gunkel said. “And I’m like, OK, it is a macabre story. I don’t know if you need to go quite that far with a boycott. Just don’t watch it,” he said.

Netflix has said the series is respectful to the victims and their families and its aim is to tell the story of how and why Dahmer became one of America’s most notorious serial murderers “as authentically as we could,” according to a statement by Peters in a promotional video posted on Twitter.

Gunkel and others familiar with the Dahmer case point out that few if anyone in Milwaukee or elsewhere knew a serial killer was on the loose in their community until the time of Dahmer’s arrest on July 22, 1991, after his 18th potential victim escaped and contacted police.

Police and prosecutors at that time revealed the discovery of body parts and other evidence found in Dahmer’s apartment, including multiple photos that Dahmer had taken of the corpses and body parts of his victims. Dahmer a short time later confessed to having committed 17 murders, the first in Ohio and the others in Wisconsin, with most taking place in Milwaukee where he lived. He provided prosecutors with the full gruesome details of how he carried out those murders.

Media reports show Dahmer pleaded guilty to 15 of the 17 murders on grounds of insanity, which resulted in a two-week trial to determine whether he was legally sane when he committed the murders. In February 1992, the jury found him sane in each of the murders. A judge then sentenced him to 15 consecutive sentences to life in prison.

Two years later, at the age of 34, Dahmer was beaten to death at Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution by an inmate who told authorities that God told him to kill Dahmer. 

Gunkel said some in the Milwaukee gay community and the African-American community reached out to each other when the list of Dahmer’s victims released by police shortly after his arrest showed most were Black gay men.

Gunkel said he remembers the news reports of several Black women who lived near the apartment building in the mostly Black neighborhood saying they tried to alert police to what they suspected was criminal activity by Dahmer.

One of the reports that triggered widespread criticism of how the police allegedly mishandled the Dahmer case involved a Black woman who called police when she saw someone she described as an Asian boy standing outside the apartment building where Dahmer lived naked and bleeding with just a towel wrapped around him.  

It later became known that the person the woman saw was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, who Dahmer met on the street, lured to his apartment, and drugged. Reports show the youth escaped from the apartment after Dahmer left to go to a store to replenish his own supply of liquor.

When Dahmer returned, he saw police talking to Konerak and the woman outside the apartment building and quickly told one of the officers that the youth was 19 years old and was in a gay relationship with him and the two had a lover’s quarrel.

To the amazement of members of the LGBTQ and African-American communities, who later learned of this development, the police allowed Dahmer to take the youth back to his apartment. One of the officers reportedly made a homophobic remark about his interaction with Dahmer and the youth in a recorded comment to a police dispatcher. Dahmer later killed Konerak, police reports show.

Community activists, including Gunkel, who at the time was president of the Milwaukee gay rights group Lambda Rights Network, said the police disregard for the concern raised by the Black woman, who believed Konerak was in danger, was an example of how racial bias on the part of at least some in the Milwaukee police department may have enabled Dahmer to continue his killing spree.

In the weeks following sometimes sensational media reports and statements by police about Dahmer’s role as a confessed gay mass murderer, LGBTQ activists in Milwaukee reported a sharp rise in anti-gay harassment and threats, including harassment targeting gay bar patrons.

“Although gay people were among Dahmer’s victims, biased statements on the part of the police and some media have linked his murderous behavior to all gay and lesbian people,” the then National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement.

An August 1991 story in the Washington Blade reports that Gunkel expressed strong concern that a police investigator used the term “homosexual overkill” to describe Dahmer’s action. Gunkel and other activists also pointed to police statements that Dahmer confessed to having engaged in sex with some of his victims and most of the victims were Black. But the police and media reports at the time did not also report that nearly all the victims were also gay.

Rather than being seen as victims, Gunkel said, gays were being portrayed as predators through a “prism” of longtime stereotypes. “We look at this as a hate crime,” said Gunkel in his 1991 comment reported in the Blade. “His patronizing of gay bars shows he was stalking gays. The bars were his feeding grounds.”

Gunkel told the Blade in a phone interview last week, 31 years after Dahmer’s arrest and the revelations of the scope of his murder spree, gay bar patrons at the time the killings were taking place did not equate the disappearance of bar patrons with anything particularly unusual.

He noted that at the time, the AIDS epidemic was still going strong and he and others at the bars sometimes thought a regular customer who suddenly stopped coming to the bar may have gotten sick.

“So, a lot of people stopped going out when they started getting sick,” he said, “And other people would get into relationships and stop going out,” Gunkel told the Blade. “And when they didn’t show up people just kind of blew it off as somebody who’s not around anymore.”

According to Gunkel, the sensational revelations of Dahmer’s killing spree and the fact that he met many of his victims in Milwaukee gay bars prompted many in the LGBTQ community to stop going to bars and gay meeting places. But he said that didn’t last very long.

Gunkel said that like others who lived through what he calls the macabre time that Dahmer’s actions became known, the Netflix series brought back his own memories of interacting with Dahmer at Club 219, the Milwaukee gay bar where he worked as a bartender.

“The few times that I saw him at the bar I refused to serve him because he was drunk,” Gunkel said. “And I thought, you know, I’m not going to serve this person. He’s already pretty smashed.”

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Out & About

Howard County to celebrate Pride Oct. 9

Community to gather at Symphony Woods at Merriweather Park

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(Image via Facebook)

Howard County Pride will begin on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Symphony Woods at Merriweather Park.

Howard County Pride celebrates and unites the LGBTQ+ community. The official roster of events has not been released yet, however, it will be available on HoCo Pride’s website.

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