Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Sylvia Rivera
July 2, 2014 by Samantha Master
Today marks the birthday of trans pioneer and civil-rights activist Sylvia Rae Rivera—widely credited with hurling the first shoe at New York police during the infamous Stonewall Riot. Rivera would have been 63.
While many remember Sylvia for her involvement in the revolutionary Stonewall Riot, her activism extended into women’s, peace and civil-rights movements as well. “All of us were working for so many movements at that time…We were all radicals. I believe that's what brought it around. You get tired of being just pushed around,”she told Leslie Feinberg about her activism pre- and post-Stonewall.
In 1970, Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). A self-identified “Afro-Tanìo," she then began organizing with the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party. After meeting Rivera, Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton remarked, "We [STAR] were revolutionary people.”
Sylvia deeply believed that liberation was a collective effort. She and her long-time comrade Marsha Johnson dedicated much of their lives to providing food, shelter and support for homeless queer and trans youth.
It was in Sylvia’s spirit of collectivism and solidarity that Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox called trans women to march with her as she grand marshaled New York’s pride parade while walking with the mother of Islan Nettles, 21, who was beaten to death while walking with friends on August 13, 2013.
And while this June was largely celebrated as the 45th anniversary of Stonewall, which began on June 28, 1969, it was tragically also the most deadly month in 2014 for trans women of color.
Just days before the anniversary, the latest victim, Tiffany Edwards, 28, was found by a sanitation worker in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the fourth trans woman of color killed in June.
As we celebrate the revolutionary life and legacy of Sylvia Rivera, we must continue to work in her spirit and dismantle the barriers that work to deprive trans people of their full humanity.
Learn more about issues impacting the lives of trans people and organizations like Trans Justice Funding Project which support trans justice organizations led by trans people.
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