Queer history was made at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles

In May 1959, an uprising took place at Cooper’s Donuts in downtown Los Angeles that many historians regard as one of the earliest acts of resistance by queer people against police abuse and harassment.

COOPER’S DONUTS

In his landmark book, “City of Night,” novelist John Rechy describes Cooper’s Donuts as a 24-hour coffee and donut cafe on Main Street that was popular with transgender women, gay men, and lesbians, who were routinely targeted and arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Although the building was demolished long ago, Cooper’s Donuts was nestled between two gay bars, Harold’s and the Waldorf, south of The Rosslyn Hotel. Almost 60 years later, everything south of The Rosslyn is a parking garage or parking lot.

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RESISTING POLICE ABUSE

But on that fateful night in May 1959, uniformed police entered Cooper’s Donuts and harassed a group of gay men and drag queens. Rechy wrote those customers singled out by officers were “two hustlers, two queens and a young man just cruising.”

Rechy, in fact, was one of the people officers attempted to arrest, but he was able to get away.

As police loaded the innocent people into a squad car, one of them objected to the vehicle being packed with five people. During their resistance, customers at the donut shop flooded into the streets, throwing coffee cups, trash, spoons, donuts, anything they could get their hands on, at police.

The officers were forced to retreat.

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

People then began rioting in the streets, and police backup arrived.

They blocked part of Main Street for the entire night and arrested several people.

OTHER HISTORIC EVENTS

This landmark riot — along with numerous other protests in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and across the country in the mid-1960s — helped launch the gay civil rights movement.

For example, seven years later, protests took place at the Black Cat in Silver Lake, nine years later a “flower power protest” took place after two gay men were arrested at the The Patch near Long Beach, and 10 years later, the Stonewall Rebellion happened in New York City.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.