Blackipedia is a weekly CASSIUS feature that takes a fun approach to exploring Black history, slang, and culture. For June (#PrideMonth), we’re honoring Black and brown members of the LGBTQ+ community. Get ready to learn something—and tell a friend!
[sil-vee-uh ri-vair-uh ]
- An LGBTQ+ civil rights trailblazer, Sylvia Rivera, was one of America’s first transgender activists. She was known for leading the charge during the Stonewall riots on June 28, 1969, and was present during the birth of the modern gay liberation movement.
- In her early days, she worked as a prostitute on 42nd street in New York City. As Martin Duberman wrote in Stonewall, she was concerned about “kids who started to hustle on the streets, as she had, at age 10 or 11 and, within a few years, were dead from a stabbing or an overdose or were locked into dead end lives.”
- In 1970, Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson opened a shelter on East Second Street called STAR House, which stood for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and provided food and shelter to homeless queer youth. The New York Times notes that when the Gay Activists Alliance removed trans people from its civil rights agenda in the early ’70s, she separated from the group, and warned that “hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
- She was honored on the 25th anniversary of Stonewall in 1994. “The movement had put me on the shelf, but they took me down and dusted me off,” she said in a 1995 interview with The New York Times. “Still, it was beautiful. I walked down 58th Street and the young ones were calling from the sidewalk, ‘Sylvia, Sylvia, thank you, we know what you did.’ After that I went back on the shelf. It would be wonderful if the movement took care of its own. But don’t worry about Sylvia.”
- Rivera died of liver cancer at St. Vincent’s Manhattan Hospital in 2002. She was 50 years old.