Happy birthday, Sylvia Rae Rivera!
Sylvia Rae Rivera (July 2, 1951 – February 19, 2002) was an American transgender activist. Rivera was a founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and helped found STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries), a group dedicated to helping homeless young street drag queens and trans women, with her friend Marsha P. Johnson.
Rivera was born and raised in New York City and lived most of her life in or near the city. She was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. She was abandoned by her birth father José Rivera early in life and became an orphan after her mother committed suicide when Rivera was three years old. Rivera was then raised by her Venezuelan grandmother, who disapproved of Rivera’s effeminate behavior, particularly after Rivera began to wear makeup in fourth grade. As a result, Rivera began living on the streets at the age of eleven, where she joined a community of drag queens.
Rivera’s activism began during the Vietnam War, civil rights, and feminist movements and fully bloomed around the time of the Stonewall Riots. She often spoke of her presence within the Stonewall Inn the night of the riots. She also became involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism, particularly with the Young Lords and Black Panthers.
At different times in her life, Sylvia Rivera battled substance abuse issues and lived on the streets. Her experiences made her more focused on advocacy for those who, in her view, the mainline community (and often thequeer community) were leaving behind.
In May 1995, Rivera tried to commit suicide by walking into the Hudson River. That year she also appeared in the Arthur Dong documentary episode “Out Rage ‘69”, part of the PBS series The Question of Equality. Rivera died during the dawn hours of February 19, 2002 at New York's St. Vincent's Hospital, of complications from liver cancer. Activist Riki Wilchins noted, “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall”.
In the last five years of her life Sylvia renewed her political activity, giving many speeches concerning the Stonewall Riots and the necessity for unity among transgender people to fight for their historic legacy as people in the forefront of the LGBT movement. She traveled to Italy for the Millennium March in 2000 where she was acclaimed as the Mother of all gay people. In early 2001, after a church service at the MCC referring to the Star announcing the birth of Jesus she decided to reinstate Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries as an active political organization. STAR fought for the New York City Transgender Rights Bill and for a trans-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. Also STAR sponsored street pressures for justice for Amanda Milan, a transgender woman who was murdered in 2000. Sylvia also attacked the Human Rights Commission and the Empire State Pride Agenda as organizations which were standing in the way of transgender rights. On her death bed she met with Matt Foreman and Joe Grabarz of the Empire State Pride Agenda in order to negotiate trans inclusion in ESPA’s political structure and agenda.
Rivera refused to have the drag culture erased from the gay rights agenda by assimilationist gay leaders who were seeking to make the community look more attractive to the heterosexual majority. Rivera’s conflicts with mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups were emblematic of the mainstream gay rights movement’s strained relationship to transgender issues. After her death, Michael Bronski recalled her anger when she felt that she was being marginalized within the community:
After Gay Liberation Front folded and the more reformist Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) became New York’s primary gay rights group, Sylvia Rivera worked hard within their ranks in 1971 to promote a citywide gay rights, anti-discrimination ordinance. But for all of her work, when it came time to make deals, GAA dropped the portions in the civil rights bill that dealt with transvestitism and drag—it just wasn’t possible to pass it with such “extreme” elements included. As it turned out, it wasn’t possible to pass the bill anyway until 1986. But not only was the language of the bill changed, GAA—which was becoming increasingly more conservative, several of its founders and officers had plans to run for public office—even changed its political agenda to exclude issues of transvestitism and drag. It was also not unusual for Sylvia to be urged to “front” possibly dangerous demonstrations, but when the press showed up, she would be pushed aside by the more middle-class, “straight-appearing” leadership. In 1995, Rivera was still hurt: “When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, ‘We don’t need you no more’”. But, she added, “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned”.
According to Bronski, Rivera was banned from New York’s Gay & Lesbian Community Center for several years in the mid-nineties, because, on a cold winter’s night, she aggressively demanded that the Center take care of poor and homeless queer youth. A short time before her death, Bronski reports that she said:
One of our main goals now is to destroy the Human Rights Campaign, because I’m tired of sitting on the back of the bumper. It’s not even the back of the bus anymore—it’s the back of the bumper. The bitch on wheels is back.
Rivera’s struggles did not relate exclusively to trans people, as they intersected with issues of poverty and discrimination faced by people of color. The transgender-of-color activist and scholar Jessi Gan discusses how mainstream LGBT groups have routinely dismissed or not paid sufficient attention to Rivera’s Latina identity, while Puerto Rican and Latino groups often have not fully acknowledged Rivera’s contribution to their struggles for civil rights. Tim Retzloff has discussed this issue with respect to the omission of discussions about race and ethnicity in mainstream U.S. LGBT history, particularly with regard to Rivera’s legacy.
An active member of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, Rivera ministered through the Church’s food pantry, which provided food to the hungry. Recalling her life as a child on the streets, she remained a passionate advocate for queer youth, and MCC New York’s queer youth shelter is called Sylvia’s Place in her honour.
Named in her honor (and established in 2002), the Sylvia Rivera Law Project is dedicated “to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence”.
In 2002, actor/comedian Jade Esteban Estrada portrays Rivera in the well-received solo musical ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1 winning her renewed national attention.
In 2005, the corner of Christopher and Hudson streets was renamed “Rivera Way” in her honour. This intersection is in Greenwich Village, the neighborhood in New York City where Rivera started organizing, and is only two blocks from the Stonewall Inn.
In January 2007, a new musical based upon Rivera’s life, Sylvia So Far, premiered in New York at La Mama in a production starring Bianca Leigh as Rivera and Peter Proctor as Marsha P. Johnson. The composer and lyricist is Timothy Mathis (Wallflowers, Our Story Too, The Conjuring), a friend of Rivera’s in real life. The show is scheduled to move off-Broadway in the winter of 2007/2008.
The Spring 2007 issue of CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, which was dedicated to “Puerto Rican Queer Sexualities” and published at Hunter College, included a special dossier on Sylvia Rivera, including a transcription of a talk by Rivera from 2001 as well as two academic essays exploring the intersections of Rivera’s trans and Latina identities. The articles in this journal issue complement other essays by Puerto Rican scholars who have also emphasized Rivera’s pioneering role.
Technology then and now
at first i thought it was the same number then I noticed it said GB and damn
As one of the tech review magazines said a few years ago when the first 32 GB micro SD cards came out, “At last it is possible for a single human being to accidentally swallow all of the data collected by the Apollo Program.”
now that is a review
It’s 2014, you could swallow the data value of the library of alexandria at this point, hell give it enough time you can fart reading rainbows
I love the idea of technological progress being measured in terms of how much civilization one can accidentally eat.
So people think the Heel-less shoe is a new thing? That Lady Gaga was the first to bring them to life?
really? THINK AGAIN~!
Lemme Tell you about Celia Cruz (A Cuban salsa Singer/Dancer from the 1950s) and her breathtaking "one of a kind" Shoes.
Celia Cruz was one of the most popular salsa dancers/singers in her time she earned twenty three gold albums and was known as the “Salsa Queen” and “The Queen of Latin Music” as well as "La Guarachera de Cuba".
Her career started in 1950 and ended in 2002, she died of brain cancer in 2003.
for one, these shoes, unlike the heel-less today doesn’t have major bulk in the front to keep the weight their, this woman was walking and dancing on her toes and not falling on her bum like most girls do today (mind she probably did, but practice makes perfect).
in their Time These shoes seemed as through she was walking on air, floating off the ground where only her toes were able to touch the ground, as if they were the only thing holding her down instead of floating away.
people were mesmarized by these, both past and present.
and in Frances Negrón-Muntaner’s Chapter 4 section in “From Banana to Buttocks” called “Celia’s Shoes” brings wonder to it all really. The whole chapter of the book is about her shoes and how influencing she was and they were in the United States and Latina media culture. really this man’s words are so passionate about the shoes it’s amazing.
seriously this woman was pretty cool, and her shoes were one of a kind in that era.
not to mention those shoes are now at the Smithsonian
Had to give tumble snaps as an educator to karnythia for what I read on my TL this morning. Especially that last retweet, this literally just happened in boston public schools. Middle school students all over the district received a letter saying there will no longer be school bus service to the schools. They’re hinting at providing students with t-passes but who knows what the follow through will be… (Though I think they’re trying to force students of color to attend their underperforming neighborhood schools and keep them out of the upper-tier public schools)
This is absolutely relevant.
Oh hey that’s me. I had some feels
Read this and then follow Karnythia here and on twitter. Seriously. Do it now.
Last week I made a comment about being by what the the current Batwoman writer Marc Andreyko said in an interview about DADT as part of Kate’s story. Andreyko later stopped by the blog to clarify things. I also received some input on my comment from a reader of the blog, Moira Phippen, which turned into a short discussion on where Batwoman was a character and her thoughts on Andreyko as a writer. I was so taken with her insights that I asked her to expand on them in a guest post. Here she discusses the three different authors that Kate Kane has had and their differing approaches to the character’s queer identity. Her thoughts follow and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I found Kate Kane just around the time of my life that I was beginning to come out, to my friends, family, community, partners, and even to myself. As a character, she is so crucial to me. Seeing a queer-identifying character take on the “Bat” name, and not just a girl, but as a “woman,” self-assured, confident, aware of herself and who she was… I can’t express how much an image like her was meaningful to me as a young adult coming to terms with a conclusion about her sexuality that she had tried her very best to avoid. No matter the writer, Kate has always embraced who she is, no apologies offered. Rucka, Williams, and now Andreyko have become some of my most treasured authors due to the care each have taken with Kate.
As I have grown older, I’ve embarked on my own path to being more like Kate: I try to be brave like her, bold like her, uncompromising like her. My relationship with each writer’s Kate - because they are, all of them, different Kates - has developed with me. In a way, they each represent different kinds of interpretations and portrayals of the queer experience and identity, all of which hold some unique and different value or impact.
This is such an amazing analysis on the three Batwoman writers’ takes on Kate Kane. love. Love. LOVE!!!