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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Sylvia  Rivera

Sylvia Rivera 1951to –2002

American Stonewall Riots veteran and fierce lifelong activist. She was born in New York City to Puerto Rican and Venezuelan parents, but was orphaned by the age of three, and living on the streets of New York by the age of eleven. When a crowd gathered outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969, she was there to fight back against police—this moment convinced her that the revolution had begun. She became involved with various gay liberation groups, but was disillusioned as mainstream gay rights distanced themselves from anyone who was gender-variant. With her close friend Marsha P. Johnson, she founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. Securing a run-down apartment, they took in as many drag queens and transgender youth as they could, then hustled the streets to raise money so that their children wouldn’t have to. Rivera fought not only for the trans community, but for anyone who was underserved: black, latino, imprisoned, or homeless. For the middle part of her life, she moved away from activism and from New York City, although drug abuse eventually forced her back onto the streets. She found a place at a shelter for transgender people that was modeled off of her own work with STAR; it was there she met her partner Julia Murray. In the 90s, she returned to the fight, and became an advocate for trans protection under the New York Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. Only hours before her death, Rivera was meeting with community organizers from her hospital bed to fight for inclusion. (The bill eventually passed without such inclusion; its gender expression counterpart, GENDA, has yet to pass in New York state.)

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