1965 New Year’s Day Ball
January 1, 1965
Primary Resource:
LGBT Religious Archives Network Online Exhibition

Poster Location:

Market/5th South

a.k.a. The California Hall Incident
a.k.a. The Council on Religion & the Homosexual’s New Year’s Mardi Gras Ball

Called “San Francisco’s Stonewall” by the Bay Area Reporter, the 1965 New Year’s Day Ball gathered together San Francisco’s six homophile groups to cosponsor a dance on New Year’s Day 1965 to raise funds for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH), a group founded to encourage a dialogue between the church and various gay rights organizations in the 1960s.

The coalition of six groups was comprised of (in alphabetical order): The Coits, The CRH, Daughters of Bilitis, The Mattachine Society, Society for Individual Rights, and The Tavern Guild of San Francisco

The event was sponsored by ministers from Glide Memorial Church, whose clergy were organizers of the CRH. Private dances were a way for queers in the 1960s to circumvent stifling laws enforced by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) that prohibited touching and dancing between members of the same sex in San Francisco bars and public spaces. 1,500 tickets were pre-sold to the event, which was held at California Hall in the Tenderloin.

Proper permits and liquor licenses were applied for and approved ahead of time. The CRH clergy also met with police beforehand to ensure there would be no harassment. However, when revelers began to arrive on the evening of January 1, 1965 they were met by a substantial contingent of SFPD officers and photographers intended to intimidate and expose attendees, particularly those dressed in drag. Three gay male attorneys and one female secretary were arrested by police on obstruction charges when they challenged continued police entry into the private event.

The attorneys were later represented by the ACLU in court, and the mainstream media picked up the story. The attorneys were all later acquitted when the trial was thrown out by the judge—a monumental victory for queers in San Francisco and around the world.

This event was also an early and important show of coalition solidarity from all of SF’s premier homophile organizations—queer men and women, drag queens, straight men and women, members of the church, and more all gathered together to support one another, first to throw the event and later to very publicly contest harassment from the SFPD. This victory was a boiling point that catalyzed the queer rights movement in our city. 

You can hear a firsthand account of the events of the evening from CRH leader Chuck Lewis:

Information and audio files sourced from the LGBT Religious Archives Network online exhibition, cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society.


*All images shown here sourced from the LGBT Religious Archives Network online exhibition, cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society.

Additional Resources

1) New Year's Eve Jan. 1 1965: A Night for Gay Rights—FoundSF; contextualizes the event against  widespread police harassment of queers in 1960s San Francisco. 

2) The night San Francisco's sense of gay pride stood up to be counted—SFGate, 6/24/2007; contextualizes the event in relation to other instances of queer activism against a backdrop of that year’s SF Pride celebrations.
3) Wikipedia—List of LGBT actions in the United States that took place prior to the Stonewall riots. 

A project of the San Francisco Arts Sommission’s Art on Market Street kiosk poster series,
funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.