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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 Has Become The World’s Second-Deadliest Country For Transgender People To Live

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Mexico Has Become The World’s Second-Deadliest Country For Transgender People To Live

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In Mexico, many in the trans community have become fearful for their lives as a record number of trans people have been killed in the country. Even with a pro-LGBTQ+ rights government at the helm, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office Dec. 1, has yet to put out any protections that would protect transgender people. 

Upon taking office, President López Obrador made promises that his administration would conduct “effective” investigations into LGBTQ+ hate crimes and physical attacks. So far, these promises haven’t led to any changes violence has continued to increase against the LGBTQ+ community, according to a recent study by the LGBTQ+ rights group, Letra S.

From 2013-2018, 261 trans women have been killed in Mexico. Brazil is the only country more dangerous than Mexico for trans women.

Credit: @AP / Twitter

While the study reflects numbers over a five-year span mostly before President López Obrador took office, death rates for trans women have already surged this year. 16 transgender women were reportedly killed from January to April this year already and at least six more since then, according to the Associated Press

These growing numbers aren’t just a reflection of the dangers in Mexico but in Latin America as whole where these trends have continued. Trans women in Latin America are some of the most at-risk citizens facing sky-high rates of violence, sexual abuse, and homicide. An Amnesty International survey found that 88 percent of LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers from these areas have suffered sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin. From 2006 to 2016, 1,654 trans and gender-diverse people were killed in Central and South America.

So what is being done to help curb these homicide rates and pursue justice for those being killed? Not much. 

Similar to other homicide-related crimes in Mexico, most of these attacks on the LGBTQ+ community have resulted in little to no actual convictions. According to the AP, less than 3 percent of LGBTQ+ homicides have resulted in a conviction since 2013.

In 2014, Mexico City became the first city in the country to allow trans people to change their gender and names on their legal birth certificates. This law has since been adopted by six of Mexico’s 32 states. Despite the progress in trans rights, a lot more needs to be done to protect people from violence and death.

There is still little being done to help the LGBTQ+ community in Mexico leaving community leaders and activists to pursue justice on their own. 

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Kenya Cuevas, a trans sex worker in Mexico, became an activist for the LGTBQ+ community when a fellow trans sex worker was killed in front of her. On Sept. 29, 2016, Cuevas’ friend, Paola Buenrostro was shot multiple times as she entered a john’s car. Cuevas ran to her friends rescue only to have the gun pointed at her but even though man pulled the trigger, she survived as the weapon jammed. She would hold the man until authorities came. She recorded everything that happened on her phone for evidence. 

Despite Cuevas recording the incident and multiple witnesses on hand, the gunman was released from custody within a week. The incident lit a fire within Cuevas and inspired her to take matters into her own hands. She left the sex work industry and founded the organization Casa de Muñecas, a group that focuses on promoting protections for transgender women. 

Cuevas has quickly become one of the most recognizable trans activists in Mexico who is calling for legal change in the country that would protect the trans community.

“When that happened to Paola, I protested and I did it publicly, asking for justice the entire time,” Cuevas told the AP. “I don’t want special treatment. Just give me justice — do your job.”

Women are leading the charge when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ rights and protections in Mexico. 

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The fight for the protection and equal rights for trans women in Mexico has been an uphill battle for many activist organizations. When it comes to finding jobs, employers have openly refused to hire transgender women which has resulted in many looking for sex work. In return, these limited opportunities have led to many of these women being on the streets where there are dangerous conditions. 

The increase in violence against trans women in Mexico is a reflection of the overall dangerous situation in the country where homicide rates have reached record highs. Murders in Mexico have spiked in the first half of this year and at this current pace, it will most likely be the highest on record, according to official data.

Lina Pérez, president of the pro-LGBTQ organization Cuenta Conmigo, told the AP that the trans community is constantly left behind when it comes to receiving help because they are often shunned by police.

“It’s easier to grant impunity because the same people that oversee the law think that they’re sick, that there is something wrong with them,” Pérez said.

Cuevas said she will do whatever it takes to support LGBTQ+ rights and fight on behalf of the memory of her slain friend. This means having to deal with constant death threats if the Mexico government won’t take action. 

“If I don’t do it, the government isn’t going to do it,” Cuevas said. “And if I wait for the government to do it, how many more people are going to be killed?”

READ: Federal Judge Blocks Ban On Asylum-Seekers Who Travel Through Safe Third Country

Founder Of Nation’s Largest Conversion Therapy Group For Gay People Has Come Out As A Gay Man And Why Aren’t We Surprised

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Founder Of Nation’s Largest Conversion Therapy Group For Gay People Has Come Out As A Gay Man And Why Aren’t We Surprised

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McKrae Game, the founder of one of the country’s largest conversion therapy programs has come out as gay and has apologized for the damage he has caused. No apology will ever be enough. Conversion therapy is nothing short of issuing psychological warfare on an innocent person because of who they love and who they are. 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ young people who are “highly rejected” by their caregivers compared to those who are not, are eight more times likely to have attempted suicide, six times more likely to have depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at high risk for HIV and STDs. 

Anything short of acceptance of LGBTQ+ people puts their lives at risk. Moreover, it is nothing short of immoral and quite frankly, narcissistic to think you can decide who someone ought to be or that your opinion matters more than scientific evidence.

The result of rejection is LGBTQ+ children who hate themselves and grow up to hate other LGBTQ+ people. McKrae Game is a product of a bigotted society, it’s very sad, but he must be held accountable for inflicting so much more pain and trauma. 

Hope for Wholeness

McKrae Game, now 51, founded Hope for Wholeness, a faith-based conversion therapy in South Carolina, two decades ago. Game married a woman and preached to thousands of people that they could change their sexual orientation, all the while being gay himself. 

In 2017, he was abruptly fired by Hope for Wholeness’ board of directors. This summer he came out and severed ties with the organization. 

“I was a religious zealot that hurt people,” Game told the Post and Courier. “People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?”

Conversion Therapy Is a for-profit business. 

Game has not just hurt thousands of LGBTQ+, he has profited from that pain. That pain was his livelihood. Even in his Facebook apology, Game announced an upcoming book about his journey. Will he be refunding all of the money stolen from families? Will he be paying back damages for pain and suffering? I haven’t located any such declaration. 

“Conversion therapy is not just a lie, but it’s very harmful,” Game said. “Because it’s false advertising.”

While it is unclear how many people have been “counseled” by Hope for Wholeness, an IRS Form 990 from 2007 revealed the ministry had administered 528 counseling sessions and held 60 group meetings that year. Game believes they’ve hurt thousands.

“I created it all,” Game said of Hope for Wholeness. “We have harmed generations of people.”

Things are changing.

In 2014, nine former founders and leaders of conversion therapy programs published a letter on the National Center for Lesbian Rights. 

“As former ex-gay leaders, having witnessed the incredible harm done to those who attempted to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, we join together in calling for a ban on conversion therapy,” they wrote. “It is our firm belief that it is much more productive to support, counsel, and mentor LGBTQ individuals to embrace who they are in order to live happy, well-adjusted lives.”

According to a 2018 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, roughly 700,000 LGBTQ+ people have undergone conversion therapy. In 2018, the Trevor Project launched “50 Bills in 50 States,” a lobbying campaign to pass legislation barring conversation therapy on minors. Today 18 states and Puerto Rico have laws banning and regulating the use of conversion therapy on minors.

Conversion Therapy does not work.

Some caregivers may believe that they are giving a child the best chance at a good life by trying to “straighten” them out to spare them the bigotry and adversity that comes with being marginalized. Point blank, there is no scientific evidence that suggests you can change someone’s sexual orientation.

In 2007, an American Psychological Association task force examined the existing research to determine if conversion therapy was effective, they concluded that the “results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through sexual orientation change efforts (SOCEs).”

Where do we go from here?

There is this pervasive myth that when someone really hates LGBTQ+ people they must be a member of the community themselves. This harmful stereotype attributes the oppression of LGBTQ+ people to themselves. That’s unlikely and offensive. The reality is that when the dominant culture asserts cis-heterosexuality as the only acceptable form of love LGBTQ+ people internalize those harmful messages and worst of all, start to believe it. 

If you are convinced who you are is wrong then the only form of self-improvement is changing yourself, and when you can’t, you inevitably blame yourself even more. This is how trauma is formed and passed onto others. Acceptance is the only answer. Acceptance is the only effective liberation.