San Francisco has been a progressive capital for several decades, having been called The World’s Gay Mecca for its progressive welcoming of all genders and lifestyles. It’s no surprise, then, that the Tenderloin has been host to some major milestones and landmarks of the LGBT civil rights movement. Here are a few groups and events that define the LGBT history of the Tenderloin neighborhood.

The Daughters of Bilitis

Founded in 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis arose as a social alternative to lesbian bars, and before long grew into something much more for the women of San Francisco and eventually the nation. From offices in the Tenderloin, the DOB printed their newsletter The Ladder which gained subscribers worldwide, with women writing in from as far away as Indonesia. The DOB and the The Ladder were created under the auspices of founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a couple who spent a lifetime advocating for the rights of LGBT people and were the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004. Back in the 1950s, this legal union was nothing more than a faraway dream for the couple, who merely sought to create a safe haven for themselves and women like them.


The streets of the Tenderloin in 1966 were the site of some of the boldest and bravest initial steps of the national gay rights movement. The Vanguard were known for their open protests of discriminatory policies in the streets of the city, and were considered the first gay liberation group in America. But their messaging wasn’t only limited to the neighborhoods they demonstrated in. Named for the organization that published it, Vanguard Magazine bought gay struggles, both personal and political, to a national network of readers. Eventually, their empowered members took part in the founding of groups to provide housing, food, and jobs for runaway LGBT youth that still exist today. For an organization that only existed for a few years, the Vanguard lived up to their name as the foment of a powerful, long-ranging movement.

Compton’s Cafeteria Riot

Three years before the Stonewall uprising, a valiant resistance against mistreatment not unlike the more famous one in New York took place at Tenderloin eatery Gene Compton’s. Transgender patrons had been harassed by staff and police at what was one of the few places they could gather freely (having been unofficially banned from the area’s gay and lesbian bars) and finally fought back in a stand for their right to exist. The corner of Taylor and Turk, the site of the long-closed restaurant, is the site of a commemorative plaque honoring the transgender men and women who stood up for their rights and made their voices heard in August 1966. Recently, a historic transgender district was dedicated within the Tenderloin as the Compton’s Transgender, Lesbian Gay and Bisexual District in honor of those who participated in this revolutionary act of resistance.

Ambassador Hotel

This six-story building, now a housing development, became an informal hospice for the city’s gay and lesbian residents suffering from AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Manager Henry “Hank” Wilson, an LGBT activist, opened his doors to the sick and needy when they were shunned from many other aspects of public life. During a time when the disease was misunderstood and it’s sufferers demonized, Wilson and the Ambassador welcomed with open arms those who needed a safe place to endure the throes of the debilitating immune condition. The building, now in the National Register of Historic Places, still stands proudly on 55 Mason Street in the Tenderloin, honoring those who suffered in silence.