Sylvia Rivera

In honor of LGBTQ+ History Month

Sylvia+Rivera

Chloe Ly, Staff Writer

Sylvia Rivera was a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist, who also worked as a community worker. She co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her close friend Marsha P. Johnson. This was a group that was dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women. She identified as a drag queen and also participated in demonstrations with the Gay Liberation Front.

Sylvia was born as Ray Rivera on July 2, 1951, in New York City, New York. She became an orphan at three-years-old since her father abandoned her early and her mother committed suicide. After that, she was raised by her grandmother, but ended up becoming homeless at the age of 11 due to her grandmother’s disapproval of her feminine behavior. She ran away from home and was forced to work as a child prostitute. Later, she was taken in by a community of drag queens, where she was given the name Sylvia. During different times in her life, she had suffered from substance abuse and living in the streets.

Sylvia’s started her activism at the age of 18, after she joined the Gay Activists Alliance in 1970. Not only did she fight for the rights of gay people, but she also fought for the inclusion of drag queens like herself in the movement. She also fought for the rights of people of color and low-income LGBT people. To show the community that they are not alone, she used her voice to help unite the community by sharing her stories, pain, and struggles. STAR fought for the New York City Transgender Rights Bill and for a trans-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. She had conflicts with the Human Rights Campaign and Empire State Pride Agenda and attacked them since they were organizations that were standing in the way of transgender rights. It is said that Sylvia would exaggerate her importance by claiming that she has been active since the civil rights movement. She had also claimed that she was present in the Stonewall Riots when Marsha P. Johnson was praised for being involved. However, Marsha P. Johnson had denied it and Sylvia couldn’t prove her claim.

Sylvia died of complications from liver cancer on February 19, 2002, at St. Vincent’s Hospital. To honor her, there were projects, organizations, streets, and many more that were named after her. Some examples is the queer youth center called Sylvia’s Place and a street named Sylvia Rivera Way. In 2019, a large mural of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson went on display in Texas and it was announced that there will be a monument to commemorate them in New York’s Greenwich Village.