Before Stonewall There Was Cooper Donuts

It was a torrent of doughnuts and coffee that kicked off the LGBT equal rights movement.

Sure, the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City gets all the glory, but it was a smaller, nearly forgotten uprising at Cooper Donuts in Los Angeles in May 1959 that its roots can be traced.

John Rechy, an accomplished gay author who chronicles the Chicano culture in his books, was there the night of the riots. On his website, he wrote that two police officers asked for ID cards from some customers at the restaurant — a typical way for them to harass LGBT people. Those who were picked out of the crowd, including Rechy, were “two hustlers, two queens, and young man just cruising.”

Something snapped in one of them — enough was enough. He objected to the car being packed with five people and objected, leading to the customers at the donut shop to flood into the streets, throwing coffee cups, trash, spoons, anything they could get their hands on.

“[The officers] fled into their car, called backups, and soon the street was bustling with disobedience. Gay people danced about the cars,” Rechy wrote.

And history was made — but like most people who are a part of history, it wasn’t apparent how important their actions were until much later.

“I would not describe it as a riot but more like an isolated patch of local social uprest that had lasting repercussions. I think less in its day, more as a lesson for us today,” said Mark Thompson, a social historian who lived in the same neighborhood as Rechy, told Mirror in an email. “LA is such a huge, sprawling city (even back then) so what happened in one district probably did not register elsewhere — especially when issues of class and race are factored in.”

Not too much is known about the “uprising” at Cooper’s Donuts, and as time passes, fewer of the storytellers of the time are around to share their experience. Rechy went on to write a number of books, and his 1963 novel “City of Night” he recounts living in the “gay ghetto” of Los Angeles.


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