The Gay Bar: Why the gay rights movement was born in one.

Published: June 28, 2011

On Dec. 31, 1966, a dozen plainclothes policemen observed the New Year’s festivities inside the Black Cat, a gay bar in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. At the stroke of midnight, as revelers celebrated with "Auld Lang Syne" and the traditional New Year’s kiss, uniformed cops burst into the bar, billy clubs swinging. For many of the bar’s customers, 1967 began with a blow to the head.

Sixteen patrons were arrested inside the Black Cat, and police chased two more men into New Faces, another gay bar nearby. There, the cops struck the female owner and beat three employees who came to her defense. According to Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ book Gay L.A., one of the bartenders suffered a ruptured spleen; when he came to at County General Hospital, he was charged with assaulting an officer. The New Year kisses led to six men being charged with lewd conduct. All of them were found guilty.

The gay community was outraged by this police harassment. Activists organized protests and distributed leaflets outside the Black Cat for weeks after the raid. But thanks to Los Angeles’ sprawling geography, few passers-by witnessed the incident or noticed the protests, and the episode received little media attention. It would be two and a half more years before a similar incident, at a bar on the opposite coast, would change the gay rights movement forever.

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