Considering the fights women and African-Americans are still fighting, gays all but rocketed from legal obscurity to near equality in record time (we can still get fired for being gay in most states, so let’s not pop all the corks just yet), and I think it time to give credit where credit is due.
At this stage of the game, any LGBTQ should know about Stonewall, what happened there, and why. But as influential as the Stonewall Riots of 1969 where, they were not, as many are led to believe, the first instance of gays and trans pushing back. That actually goes back a full decade in La-La Land.
In 1959, downtown Los Angeles was already experiencing “white flight” and the city center was largely being taken over by Latinos and other groups that created enough of a cover for gays and trans to be somewhat less secretive than elsewhere in the city. Sandwiched between two Main Street gay hangouts, Harold’s and the Waldorf, was Cooper’s Do-nuts, a 24-hour café that more often than not kept the party going — if in a highly caffeinated, non-alcoholic kind of way — after the bars closed. Well known to be a hangout for gays, crossdressers, transgenders, hustlers, and johns, it was often in the crosshairs of the LAPD.
In May of 1959, the police raided Cooper’s Do-nuts, arresting three. When one of the victims protested getting into the cop car, the officers tried to force the man in—whereupon they found themselves being pelted by doughnuts, paper plates, and coffee from the patrons, mostly drag queens and transfolk, still in Cooper’s. While a food-fight against the police seems futile from the start, the counterattack was so ferocious the LAPD turned tail and fled, only to come back with reinforcements. Then a real riot ensued, and that stretch of Main Street was closed for a day. Much of went down made it’s way into “City of Night” by John Rechy, one of the people the police tried to arrest.
Cooper’s Do-nuts is long gone (the marquee was up at least until 1982), and most resources can’t even give a precise address, although next-door neighbor Harold’s is listed as being at 555 S. Main St. But the fact remains that this place did exist, and the events there did happen.
So to all my readers headed off to the City of Angels, take a detour. Main Street is a major thoroughfare and one of the city’s most historic; the City Hall and US Court House are on it. And so was a 24-hour coffee shop that was the true start of where we are today. I’m sold. Visit Steele Luxury Travel for all of your travel planning needs, from Los Angeles to beyond!