Entertainment

Sylvia Rivera Is One Of The Most Prominent Influencers Of LGBTQ+ Rights And Here’s Everything Your School Didn’t Teach You About Her

Pride Month might be over but the celebration of LGBTQ+ icons and history lives on. When it comes to LGBTQ+ Queen Sylvia Rivera the party will always live on. Nearly two decades after her death, and exactly 50 years after her role in the spark of the Stonewall Riots and Pride, Sylvia Rivera still remains one of the most prominent influencers of LGTBQ+ history and rights.

You may not remember her name or face, but you will remember her extraordinary story and the legacy she has left behind for marginalized members of the gay community. This is the story of a life rooted in activism–whether she knew it all along or not–the story of one woman simply trying to live her life authentically.

This is the incredible life story of LGBTQ icon Sylvia Rivera.

Born into intolerance.

@PPNYCAction / Instagram

Given the name Ray Rivera Mendosa and assigned male upon her birth in the Bronx, New York, on July 2nd, 1951, Sylvia was soon abandoned by her father. By the time she was three, her mother committed suicide and Rivera was left her grandmother. The activist was raised in a household where her abuela disapproved strongly of Rivera’s darker skin tone and feminine behavior. 

A rising resistor

@kim.terrell/Instagram

Sylvia was forced into the margins of society because of her refusal to conform to gender norms. At the time, the term “transgender” wasn’t commonly known–people choosing to shun conventional gender norms were simply referred to as drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals, or simply “queers.” Still, Sylvia refused to hide and openly wore makeup in the 4th grade, leaving her to be bullied both in school and at home. At the age of ten, Sylvia had had enough and chose to run away from home.

Life on the Streets

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She made her home on 42nd street, taking on the role of a sex work in order to survive and getting taken in by a family of trans women who taught her how to get by. Life was difficult–to say the least–for a queer gender-nonconforming person of color, especially one still a child. Her time on 42nd street would later influence her activism for the marginalized members of the gay community.

Meeting Marsha P. Johnson

@majorlady / Twitter

Then one day something happened that would change Sylvia’s life forever. She was simply trying to drum up some business when she spotted Marsha P. Johnson–a gorgeous older Black trans woman who took Sylvia out for dinner, showed her how to apply her makeup and gave her tips for getting by on the streets. The two quickly became friends and remained so for the rest of their lives.

Riotting in the Streets And Sparking Change

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On June 28th, 1969, violent confrontations broke out between police and gay rights activists outside of the Stonewall Inn–a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The police had been in the process of raiding when patrons started to fight back, giving rise to an international gay rights movement.

The Beginning of What’s to Come

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Where does Sylvia fit into the Stonewall Riots? It is rumored that she threw the first brick. Just seventeen years old at the time, Sylvia was with Marsha when the riots started and is credited with one of the most famous quotes from the event: “I’m not missing a minute of this. It’s the revolution!” 

What Happens Next

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After Stonewall, Sylvia became part of the emerging gay rights movement–albeit at a time when transgender people were not particularly welcomed. Her role in gay history eventually resulted in her being one of the first people to highlight that the movement itself needed to be more inclusive. 

To Boldly Go

@sylviariveralawproject/Instagram

Despite the adversity Sylvia would repeatedly face, she continued to get involved however she could, using her outsider status to help make a change. She was bold and brave, willing to go to great lengths to ensure her message was received–including being willing to get arrested even though she was a transgender woman of color and would face unimaginable difficulties in prison.

A Daring Escapade

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At one point when New York City Council was debating a gay rights bill, Sylvia tried to climb into a window (in a dress and heels) to have her say. She was subsequently arrested yet still earned the title of “the Rosa Parks of the Modern Transgender Movement” for all of her efforts.

Activism and Adversity

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Sylvia was also an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), however, these groups were largely made up of gay white males who, seeking wider acceptance, started to distance themselves from important transgender issues Sylvia wanted to address.

Being “Other”

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Sylvia began to feel shunned in the gay liberation circles. Her multiple marginalized identities created a sense of Otherness that made the community see her as dangerous.

The Sit-In that Started it All

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In 1970 the GAA was using Weinstein Hall at NYU to host “Dance-a-Fair” fundraisers for services in the gay community. There was much controversy from the NYU administration which eventually led to a sit-in for five days and ended with New York City’s Tactical Police Squad ordering the occupiers out. Sylvia refused and had to be carried out by police.

A STAR is Born

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As a result Sylvia, with the help of Marsha P. Johnson, founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and opened a shelter for homeless transgender youth.

A Spark of Hope

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Shortly after forming STAR, Sylvia heard of an uprising being led by the Young Lords–a revolutionary Puerto Rican group–against police brutality. Sylvia, along with other members of STAR, marched alongside the Young Lords in Spanish Harlem. Sylvia was happily surprised by the respect they were shown by the Young Lords and was quick to join them in solidarity, starting a Gay and Lesbian Caucus that worked within the group.

More Challenges

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STAR House, unfortunately, received no help from the gay community, forcing Sylvia to work the streets in order to keep the youth under her wing off of them. Despite her best efforts to provide a home for marginalized transgender youth, Sylvia was evicted from the derelict building that was STAR House.

One Last Hurrah

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Once more Sylvia found herself fighting against gay activists in order to be heard. She forced her audience to listen as she described the abuse her people endured whilst simultaneously chastising the activists for their abandonment. Sadly, this would be the last of her involvement for decades as she slipped away into a quiet life in Tarrytown.

Well-Deserved Recognition

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In 1984, despite past feelings of antipathy from the GAA and the GLF, Sylvia was “rediscovered” and awarded a place of honor in the New York City gay pride march to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. She reported feeling like she’d been taken off the shelf and dusted, but nevertheless, she was seen by those she’d spent her life fighting for.

The End of an Era

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In 1992, Marsha P. Johnson passed away, causing Sylvia’s life to go off the rails. Once again without a roof over her head, Sylvia lived near Greenwich Village on an abandoned pier. Eventually, she quit drinking and rejoined the movement, even trying to restart STAR in 2001. Unfortunately, though, Sylvia died of liver cancer a year later at the age of 50, continuing to advocate even from her deathbed.

Her Legacy Lives On

@sylviariveralawproject/Instagram

Sylvia died much in the way that she lived–fighting for what she believed in. Her memory lives on through the Sylvia Rivera Law Project that “works 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.”

A Life to Remember

@sylviariveralawproject/Instagram

Long before Harvey Milk and Caitlyn Jenner made headlines for LGBTQ rights movements and transgender activism, there was Sylvia Rivera, occupying a unique place in LGBTQ history and working tirelessly for justice and civil rights. Her courage will never be forgotten.

Mexico Is One Of The Most Violent Places For Trans Women, So This News Out Of Mexico City Is Heartwarming

Things That Matter

Mexico Is One Of The Most Violent Places For Trans Women, So This News Out Of Mexico City Is Heartwarming

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Around the world the transgender community faces threats of extreme violence, harassment, and even death. In fact, even here in the United States the life expectancy for a trans woman of color is just 35-years-old because we are losing them to increased rates of both violence and suicide.

Things aren’t much better across the border in Mexico. Although there are a number of Indigenous communities across Mexico that welcome the trans community as members of the ‘third sex’ and many of the country’s largest cities are relatively safe for trans people, violence against trans women is rampant. In 2018, a young trans woman was decapitated and her head placed in the central square in the state of Veracruz.

Given the level of violence and harassment against the trans community, news of Mexico City of supporting the community is being openly welcomed.

Mexico City announced it will help support the trans community with monthly allowances to use towards healthcare.

Credit: BuzzfeedMX / Twitter

The trans community has had to combat risks of violence, murder, harassment, and even denial of medical services simply for being trans. Because of this discrimination, the city has proposed an economic program to help trans people receive guaranteed access to healthcare. The program will also help the community avoid discrimination in the healthcare and workplace fields.

According to the mayor’s office, the city is proposing annual support of $24,000 pesos – or about $1,200 USD – paid out monthly to those who sign up. To qualify, participants must be at least 30 years old and can use the funds to obtain healthcare, including hormone treatments and the treatment of other medical issues.

Each month, the city will deposit the equivalent of about $100 USD on a card.

Credit: EqualityUnited / Instagram

Right now, the program has a budget of $4.8 million pesos (about $250,000 USD) and it’s being offered to about 200 people a year. The program is vital for many trans women who find it nearly impossible to complete the often medically recommended procedures they need.

The Transgender Europe Observatory for transgender people ranked Mexico as being the second worst nation in the world when it comes to violence against trans women. In the last three years alone, 195 people have been targeted and killed for being trans.

The mayor’s office has insisted it will be a comprehensive program aimed at improving the quality of life for members of the trans community.

Credit: ProjectTrans / Instagram

According to Reforma, the mayor, Néstor Núñez, said that the economic program for trans people will be comprehensive, so every Thursday of each month there will be a health day, where dental care, medical check-ups, and more will be provided.

Given the level of violence the trans community faces and the amount of trans people who have been fired or denied a job because of their gender identity, programs like this one are vital.

Victoria’s Secret Is Officially Eating Its Words After Hiring A Trans Model To Represent Its Brand

Fierce

Victoria’s Secret Is Officially Eating Its Words After Hiring A Trans Model To Represent Its Brand

@valentts / Instagram

Several times in the past, Victoria’s Secret has come under fire for the hiring practices of their models. For instance, the underwear company has been accused of not hiring women of color — especially dark women — for their campaigns. Also, they have made disparaging comments before about hiring plus-sized and transgender models to display their products. 

However, with the addition of its newest model, it seems that the brand has had a change of heart– or is, at least, trying to win back ours.

Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio has been confirmed as the first trans model to be hired by the company for any of their lines or campaigns.

Instagram / @valentts

Last week, the model posted a photo of herself on her Instagram, causing fans to speculate about the collaboration. In it, Sampaio tagged Victoria’s Secret’s Insta and added the hashtags #vspink, #campaign, and #diversity. She also posted a video of herself days later with the caption “Never stop dreaming genteee” along with the hashtags #staytuned, #vspink and #diversity.

Despite these posts, her partnership with the lingerie brand wasn’t confirmed until Monday. 

Sampaio’s agent, Erio Zanon, confirmed with CNN that the model has been hired by Victoria’s Secret for a campaign. The campaign is set to be released in mid-August 2019 and the brand’s popular PINK line is reported to be its target.

Hiring the Brazilian as a new face of their brand is a huge departure from Victoria’s Secret’s very recent exclusionary stance.  

Twitter / @ConLaGenteRos

Back in 2018, Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer for Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, created controversy with certain comments he made during an interview with VOGUE. When asked about adding plus-sized models and trans models to their yearly Victoria’s Secret special or to their advertisements, Razek rejected the idea. 

“It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this?” the marketing officer asked hypothetically. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.”

Razek later apologized for his comments after the trans and LBGTQ communities pushed back on his offensive words. In his official statement, he clarified: “My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show came across as insensitive. I apologize. To be clear, we would absolutely cast a transgender model for the show.”

Supporters of the brand’s decision to hire Sampaio were quick to celebrate the partnership for the history maker that it is.

Twitter / @Lalaribeiro16

Fellow Brazilian model Lais Ribeiro sent her congratulations to the newest Victoria’s Secret’s model on her incredible news. In a tweet from her personal Twitter account, the Latina posted a screenshot of an article describing the Latina’s new job with the caption, “First transgender to shoot with Vs! This makes me so happy!” We’re ecstatic that Sampaio has the support of other models during this new and challenging role. 

Fans on Twitter were also happy to learn of Victoria’s Secret’s historical hire and shared their hope that it would lead to other important diversification.

Twitter / @JorgeMarceloBl1

 As this tweet points out, the hire is way past due. Our society is becoming more noticeably diverse and, with the change in dynamics, our marketing and entertainment should also reflect these differences. Just like this Twitter user, we are looking forward to the day that Victoria’s Secret hires plus-sized women, more Black and brown women, and disabled people to rep their runways. 

Still, we can’t help but admit that this hire could partially be driven by the poor reaction to their earlier anti-trans sentiment. 

Twitter / @ThePrinceLogan

Twitter user points out that the lingerie brand has been losing big money for a while now. After a disastrous 2018, Victoria’s Secret announced in April of 2019 that they would be closing over 50 stores by the end of the year. This inclusion of a trans model could be seen as pandering to an untapped demographic in order to get their sales up. 

However, we’re reminded that progress is progress no matter how it comes about. 

Twitter / @SunjazzD

Whether this is a hire with an ulterior motive or not, the fact that Sampaio has been brought on as the first trans model for Victoria’s Secret is huge. Progress should be celebrated no matter how it comes about and we’re certain that Sampaio will make a heavenly addition to the lingerie brand’s team.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmPDFBzZKao

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