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Screaming Queens

It's a hot August night in San Francisco in 1966. Compton's Cafeteria, in the seedy Tenderloin district, is hopping with its usual assortment of transgender people, young street hustlers, and down-and-out regulars. The management, annoyed by the noisy crowd at one table, calls the police. When a surly cop, accustomed to manhandling Compton's clientele, attempts to arrest one of the queens, she throws her coffee in his face. Mayhem erupts -- windows break, furniture flies through the air. Police reinforcements arrive, and the fighting spills into the street. For the first time, the drag queens band together to fight back, getting the better of the cops, whom they kick and stomp with their high-heeled shoes and beat with their heavy purses. For everyone at Compton's that night, one thing was certain -- things would never be the same again.

Screaming Queens introduces viewers to a diverse cast of former prostitutes, drag entertainers, police officers, ministers and neighborhood activists, all of whom played a part in the events leading up to the Compton's Cafeteria riot. Mixing recent interviews with archival footage, printed documents, impressionistic reenactments and period music, the program depicts a marginalized community few people know, one that exists in the midst of a city famous for its cosmopolitan glamour. With extraordinary candor and from differing points of view, the subjects recount the difficulties they encountered in the Tenderloin, as well as the sense of community they created there in the mid-1960s. Felicia Elizondo tells of prostituting herself in order to survive. Aleshia Brevard, a drag entertainer, describes how her talent spared her from street prostitution. Perhaps most surprising is Sgt. Elliot Blackstone, who helps explain the conflict between the San Francisco Police Department and the city's transgender community and how the SFPD's policies changed to reflect greater acceptance in the years following the 1966 riot.

The documentary goes on to show the connection between transgender activism and the larger social upheavals affecting the United States in the 1960s: the civil rights and sexual liberation movements, the youth counterculture, urban renewal, and Great Society antipoverty programs. "Glide Memorial Methodist Church first reached out to the transgender community in these years," the Rev. Ed Hansen explains, "because of new thinking about the church's role in society." Amanda St. Jaymes and Tamara Ching, both transsexual activists and former prostitutes, recount the ferment in the Tenderloin in the 1960s as well as the growing sense of dignity among transgender people. But in the summer of 1966, many others, including most San Francisco police officers, did not share these new ideas. By bringing these social and political tensions to light, Screaming Queens offers viewers a fuller understanding of the events and conditions that led up to the riot.

Further, Screaming Queens explores the reverberations, both large and small, of the rise of transgender activism, a story in which the riot at Compton's Cafeteria plays a pivotal role. Sgt. Blackstone tells of singing "We Shall Overcome" with Tenderloin activists who successfully fought for new social services for their community. Suzie Cooke recounts her job as a transsexual counselor in one of the new agencies founded after the riot. Ching connects the Tenderloin transsexuals' new activism to the rising Gay liberation movement. And St. Jaymes explains that although the queens from Compton's were "wild as the wind," they were "determined to make something of themselves, and be something other than prostitutes."

The film ends on a high note. It shows how in just two short years transgender activism helped transform San Francisco culture in subtle and profound ways and presents reflective comments from the Compton's Cafeteria subjects who bravely ushered in a controversial revolution that continues today.

Screaming Queens sets out to foster a better understanding of the experiences of transgender people and to inform a broad audience of their often-difficult lives and unheralded accomplishments. Along the way, the program also illuminates the interplay of urban politics, community mobilization and social services in creating the modern inner city.

This important documentary tells a forgotten San Francisco story of dramatic social change from the compelling perspective of firsthand participants. The film's story focuses on the experiences of the rioters themselves, the police and the social-activist clergy members. It also follows historian Susan Stryker's rediscovery of the 1966 disturbance at Compton's Cafeteria. At that time, transgender people faced serious employment discrimination, police harassment and other difficulties. The program's subjects describe the challenging circumstances and the misconduct of officials that drove them to take militant action in the streets. Screaming Queens then examines the significant changes -- in police practices, social services and self-image -- that came out of the conflict. In her story within the story, Stryker reveals how the Compton's Cafeteria riot, although not as large as New York's Stonewall conflict, was a dramatic turning point in a decades-long process of transgender community formation and political mobilization in San Francisco, a process that involved dramatic changes in medical practices, urban politics, neighborhood geography and public consciousness.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria is produced in association with The Independent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED Public Television.

[Original air date: Sun, Jun 19, 2005]

This program is not currently scheduled for broadcast.

Filmmaker Profiles:

Victor Silverman

Read more about Victor Silverman, filmmaker of Screaming Queens.

Susan Stryker

Read more about Susan Stryker, filmmaker of Screaming Queens.


Screaming Queens: Crew & Credits

Victor Silverman
Susan Stryker

Jack Walsh
Susan Stryker
Victor Silverman

Laurie Schmidt

Susan Stryker
Victor Silverman

Director of Photography: Sophie Constantinou
Music: Heikki Koskinen
Sound Recordist:Lauretta Molitor

Additional Photography:
Tomas Tucker
Michelle Crenshaw

Additional Sound Recordists:
Kadet Kuhne
Debra Schaffner

Michael Victoria

Bill Basquin
Rick Santangelo

Floor Director: Randy Brase
Opening Credit Design: Clay Lipsky
Additional Editing: Christine Steele
Assistant Editor: David Hurwich
Photoshop Artist: Wilson Weaver

Humanities Consultants:
Allan Berube
Paul Gabriel
Martin Meeker
Joanne Meyerowitz
Gayle Rubin
Peter Stein
Willie Walker

Archival Media Consultant: Kim Klausner

Ray Baxter
Gary Gregerson
Lawrence Helman
Mollie Menzies
Miss Edy Modular

Still Photographer:
Andy Moore

Production Assistants:
Soizick Jaffre
Jill Legare
Frances Martinez
Brian McCall
Daniel W. Rivers

Research Assistants:
Emily Avera
Marni Chan
Christina Elmore
Susan Hoang
Don Romesburg

T. Tristan Josephson
Katie Stanford
Kim Van Cao
Ralitza Stoeva


Series Producer:
Rachel Raney
Associate Producer:
Elizabeth Pepin
Unit Manager:
Jolee Hoyt
On-Line Editor:
Shirley Gutierrez
Sound Mix:
Paul Zahnley, Disher Music and Sound
Manager of Production, TV Operations:
Frank Carfi
Operation Coordinator:
Kim McCalla
AVID Supervisor:
Robert O'Geen
Assistant Editor:
Steven Klocksiem
June Ouellette

Anne Wintroub
Yoonhung Lee

David Moyce
Executive Director, TV Productions and Programming:
Michael Isip
Executive Producer:
Sue Ellen McCann

For Independent Television Service

Executive Producer:
Sally Jo Fifer

Archival Footage:
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
Ed Muckerman
Oddball Film+Video
National Archives and Records Administration
Pacific Basin Institute
Prelinger Archives/Internet Archive
Producers Library Service
Special Collections, J. Paul Leonard Library, San Francisco State University
Lilli Vincenz

Archival Photographs
Aleshia Brevard
Loren Cameron
Tamara Ching
Cleis Press
Suzy Cooke
Felicia Elizado
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
Sabrina Mazzoni
Prism Entertainment Corporation
San Francisco Photo Collection, San Francisco Public Library
Amanda St. Jaymes
United Press International

Angela Valente-Romeo
Richard J. Lee

Insurance Services:
Charles Whelan Insurance Agency
Fiscal Sponsor:
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society

Special Thanks:
Ann Bages
Richard Bear
Rachel Benjoya
Kate Bornstein
Steven Cable
Donna Cartwright
Barbara Fergeson
Kim Hraca
Joanne Meyerowitz
Lisa Post
Lizzie Reis and Matt Dennis
Sorrietta Silverman
Marge Sussman and Cindy Shamban
Lucy Wheeler

Thank You:
Pat Akre
Aarin Burch
Robert Chehoski
Frederique Delacoste
Dallas Denny
Ralph Dickinson
Diane Dimauro
Julie Dorf
Michael Ehrenzweig
JoEllen Fisher
Miqqi Gilbert
Jan Ginther
Calvin Gipson
Laurie Glover
C. Jacob Hale
Cyd Hill
Jo Hirschman
John Kifmeyer
Susie Kisber
Teresita La Campesina
Alison Laing
Alexis Lezin
Pedro Loureiro
Maureen McCluney
Jim McKee
Peter Maiden
Mano Marks
Jennifer Morris
Heather Muhr
Opal Nations
Jenni Olson
Cynthia Peters
Rick Prelinger
David Raymond
Kreemah Ritz
Mike Rotkin
Deborah Rudacille
Jose Sarria
F. Allen Sawyer
John Scagliotti
LeeAnn Sheilds
Gail Silva
Texas Starr
Jack Stevenson
Sandy Stone
Jim Swanson
Kim Toevs
Jim Van Buskirk
David Weissman
Brett Westbrook
Helene Whitson
Nabeel Zuberi
Bay Area Video Coalition
California Newsreel
Gay-Straight Alliance
Hollywood Hills Cafe
Market Street Properties
Mel's Drive-In, San Francisco
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Olympic Flame Cafe
Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center
Trannyshack, San Francisco
Trans Action
Women's Educational Media

Special Thanks to Our Families for Their Love, Patience, and Support

Lorraine Mann, Isaac Mann-Silverman, Rafael Silverman y de la Vega, Kim Klausner, Wilson Westbrook-Fergeson, Denali Dalton-Toevs, Barbara Fergeson, Mark, Sonya, Breanna, and Camber Fergeson

In memory of
Willie Walker
Amanda St. Jaymes

Produced in association with the Independent Television Service and KQED, Inc.

This program was produced by Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker, who are solely responsible for its contents.

Copyright 2005. Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker. All Rights Reserved.

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