Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

Sylvia Ray Rivera
-transgender activist

Ray Rivera was born and grew up in New York City in 1951. When he was just 3 years old, he was abandoned by his father and after his mother committed suicide, he became an orphan. Rivera was then raised by his grandma, and at his young age he showed a lot interests in some effeminate behaviors like makeup, which was disapproved by his grandma. As a result, Rivera left away from home at the age of 10 in 1961. He began to live on the streets and worked as a prostitute. About Rivera’s gender, his physiological nature is male, but he considered himself as a transgender, so he changed his name to Sylvia Rivera.

In terms of what she wanted, it reconnects to Rivera’s experiences of fighting against substance abuse and living in homosexual homeless community. During a later interview, she said: “The early 60s was not a good time for drag queens, effeminate boys or boys that wore makeup like we did. Back then we were beaten up by the police, by everybody.” Apparently, Rivera’s suffering made her show solicitude for the lesbian, gay/ bisexuals and transgender people. From then on, Rivera used her voice to give her community power at different times in her life. She wanted to fight for herself but more importantly the most unprotected marginal people, which includes “transgender people, gay community, low income drag queens and also homeless youth.” As an individual who suffered from poverty and prejudice, Sylvia Rivera decided to use her voice to form an uniting group by sharing her own painful and struggling experiences, to show that they are not alone.

As for how she fought for it, firstly we have to mention the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. In the early morning on June 28, when New York police assaulted the inn and tried to take away some customers, there were many people gathered outside the inn. And as a patron, Sylvia Rivera was one of the members in the crowd, they threw bottles and other objects to the police. These resistance actions triggered a sudden riot and protest, which marked the US contemporary LGBT liberation movement. One year later, Rivera and her friend Johnson established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolution) to strive for transgender rights. The group was dedicated to prohibit discrimination on the sexual orientation in employment, housing, education or the exercise of civil rights, which was the first shelter established to advocate and assist transgender groups. Apart from that, as people at the leading edge of the LGBT movement, Rivera also devoted herself to giving some speeches on behalf of STAR, these speeches are mainly about about “the Stonewall Uprising or the necessity for unity among transgender people”.

The answer for ‘Did she get it’ is yes, in some ways, Rivera founded the modern transgender movement, she created a loud and persistent voice for the rights of LGBT people. Additionally, she was the pioneer who got “T” into LGBT ——the definition of gender was expanded in NYC Human Rights Law in 2002, which includes protections for “trans and gender-different people”. Although the situation was improved, transgender people were still facing issues of poverty and discrimination, and have critical needs for protection. At the same year of 2002, a Law Project was set up and named for Sylvia Rivera, which is called SRLP. By focusing on “issues of poverty and racism”, the SRLP works to continue Sylvia’s work, it’s “a legal organization that provides free services to transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people who are low-income or are people of color.” Those legal assistance seeks to ensure that all people are free to determine their gender identity, and can live their truth without shame and terror, regardless of issues of income or racial differences. In order to memorize Sylvia Rivera’s fight for injustice, there is a global vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance on every November 20.

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