by Aaron, MTPC Intern
Greetings from Aaron, the Public Policy Intern here at MTPC. In February, I highlighted the impact of 5 black trans women in the United States. The post has since received almost 6,000 “likes” on Facebook and has people talking about the contributions of black trans women in the trans movement. Given the popularity of this topic and the importance of sharing trans histories, I am excited to bring you more stories about a diverse group of trans activists, pioneers, and figures in the next few months. In honor of Women’s History Month, today’s post will focus on the legacy of resistance that follows the powerful life of Sylvia Rivera.
Born in New York City in 1951, Sylvia Rivera had a rocky start to life. Her mother’s early death and father’s frequent absence left Rivera bouncing from one place to another, enduring abuse for her effeminate presentation. In the early 1960’s, she began engaging in sex work alongside other trans women and drag queens. Leaving home for good, Rivera immersed herself in the transgender and drag queen community she discovered while hustling, finding solace in spaces like the Stonewall Inn. When police raided the Inn on June 18th, 1969, Rivera actively fought back. She was famously quoted as saying, “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”
Rivera’s activism did not end with the Stonewall Riots. Recognizing the need for inclusion in a white, middle-class, gay-male-dominated movement, she became a voice for those without representation. As a Latina trans woman, Rivera fought for people of color and trans folks to be recognized and pressed for New York City’s gay rights bill to include protections for drag queens and trans people. While that campaign was unsuccessful, she went on to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) with Marsha P. Johnson in 1970. The organization provided shelter, clothes, and support for young homeless trans women and drag queens.
While cancer took her life in 2002, Rivera spent her lifetime working toward an inclusive LGBT movement and support for the most vulnerable folks in her community. She refused to accept that anyone should be left by the wayside. Her goal was intersectionality through resistance and representation, which remain important parts of today’s fight for equality.
Before her death, she said, “Before I die, I will see our community given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.”
Watch Rivera’s speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally below or here. (Trigger warning: violence, sexual assault, transphobia)
Learn about the organization formed in her legacy, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project by visiting SRLP.org.