Sylvia Rivera - Inductee

1951 - 2002

Sylvia Rivera was born an effeminate Puerto Rican/Venezuelan boy in New York City. She began wearing make-up to school in fourth grade. Rejected because of her expressed identity, she started living on the streets and hustling by age 11. The drag queens she found there were instrumental in forming her concept of family and community. Rivera soon became involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism, and eventually with the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. But it was with the advent of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that she found the cause that would establish the beginning of her legacy. Rivera was an active member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and later the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) which, in the early 1970s, became New York’s primary gay rights group working to secure an anti-discrimination ordinance. Rivera was arrested for climbing the walls of City Hall in a dress and high heels to crash a closed-door meeting on the bill. As the GAA grew more conservative it began to ignore the rights of the transgender population. “When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, ‘We don’t need you no more,’” explained Rivera. She was extremely critical of gay and lesbian groups which focused on assimilation, and the marginalization of transgender people that resulted from it. She would have no part of any organization which disrespected those who had played a decisive role in establishing the movement. In 1970 Rivera, along with her close friend Marsha P. Johnson, founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) – an organization committed to helping homeless transgender women. In addition to offering food, shelter, and safety, STAR fought for passage of the New York City Transgender Rights Bill and for a transgender-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. An active member of the Metropolitan Community Church, she spent the last part of her life at Transy House, a direct descendent of the original STAR shelter. Sylvia Rivera – the woman who made sure there was a “T” with the “LGB…” – died on February 19, 2002 from complications due to liver cancer. She was 50.

Sylvia Rivera Bronze Memorial

Plaque Sponsor

Stoli Group USA "We didn't stop. We weren't afraid. We were not going to be oppressed anymore." - Sylvia Rivera

Demography

Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Queer

Gender Identity Transgender

Ethnicity Latinx

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Cold War (1945-1991) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Stonewall Era (1969-1974) Vietnam War (1955-1975)

Field(s) of Contribution

Politics

Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

MCC New York's Queer Youth Shelter Named Sylvia's Place

Sylvia Rivera Law Project Named in her Honor (2002)

Corner of Christopher and Hudson Streets Renamed Syliva Rivera Way (2005)

The New School's University Center Social Justice Hub Named the Baldwin Rivera Boggs Center After Activists James Baldwin, Sylvia Rivera and Grace Lee Boggs (2014)

First Transgender American to Have Portrait in Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (2015)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2019)

Livorno Italy Dedicated Parco Sylvia Rivera in Her Honor (2019)

Upcoming Greenwich Village Monument Honoring Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson

Authorship

Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Elizabeth Kelly
DePaul University Dept. of Gender Studies
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Courtesy of Wilson Legacy Collection
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Courtesy of Wilson Legacy Collection
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell