2nd July 1951 – 19th February 2002
“Hell hath no Fury like a Drag Queen scorned.”
Sylvia Rivera was a Drag queen and prominent LGBTI+ rights activist. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. She dedicated her life to raising awareness of homeless trans youth, drag queens and trans women of colour.
An orphan from 3, of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Sylvia grew up on the streets and began working as a prostitute before being taken in by a group of local Drag Queens. After initially getting involved with the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement, Sylvia began campaigning for LGBTI rights and was present at the Stonewall Riots. After many (white, rich) Gay and Lesbian people started to gain more rights Sylvia turned her attention to campaigning for LGBTI people of colour, those on low incomes and in particular people on the gender Spectrum who were still being heavily oppressed and overlooked by the “mainstream” campaigns.
As a drag activist Sylvia attacked Gay men that exploited young transgender people, trans-excluding feminists and any movement that highlighted the needs of “respectable” LGB people whilst overlooking Queer people who did not fit the model of gay respectability. Towards the end of her life she continued campaigning and called for unity within the LGBTI+ movement after the murder of one of her closest activist friends.
In a world that demands respectability and conformity to the (white, well educated, good mannered, well off, straight acting) social norm in order to receive basic rights and respect, Sylvia stands as a symbol of those who are unable or unwilling to become something they are not. As an activist she gave hope to thousands of people who were left behind on the margins of the very movements that claimed to be fighting for them.
She died on this day, 2002, of liver cancer and has been declared “the Rosa Parks of the transgender movement”.
A Prayer for Sylvia Rivera:
God our Heavenly Mother, lover of all those found upon the margins, we give thanks for the tireless work of your child Sylvia Rivera. We ask that you bless those who continue her work for the overlooked and marginalised of this world, particularly those who do not belong to respectable society, and ask that we continue to strive for unity and equality so that no one is left behind or overlooked. Through your most Holy and marginalised Son we pray. Amen
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