Things That Matter

Ahead of Her Time: The Incredible Life of Sylvia Rivera

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. Orphaned at three and homeless by ten, Sylvia Rivera likely never anticipated that she would one day become an icon for the LGBTQ community. No, at the age of ten Sylvia was simply trying to survive on the tough and unrelenting streets of New York in the 1960s. 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.

The Early Years

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Born Ray Rivera Mendosa in the Bronx, New York, on July 2nd, 1951, Sylvia was abandoned by her father at birth; her mother committed suicide when Sylvia was three. This left her grandmother to raise her, despite abuela’s disapproval of her darker skin tone and feminine behavior. 

Going Against the Grain

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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

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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.

Riot in the Streets

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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.

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Dwayne Wayde Talks About Supporting Trans Daughter

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Dwayne Wayde Talks About Supporting Trans Daughter

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Former NBA baller Dwayne Wayde just made a major score in our book.

The father of four and husband to actress Gabrielle Union has gained quite a bit of clout as a Five Star dad thanks to his parenting know-how. In particular, the basketball phenom has in recent years gained attention for his support of his 12-year-old daughter Zaya on social media, particularly when she began to display hints of being part of the LGBTQ community.

Recently, Wayde opened up about his process of understanding his daughter’s gender identity.

Speaking with Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America,” Wayde confirmed that she is trans. “This is her life every day. This is no game to us,” Wayde told Roberts on Tuesday. “We’re all about protecting her heart, we’re about protecting her joy and to do that, we have to support her.”

According to Wayde, Zaya– who has been aware of her gender identity since she was 3– gave her father permission to share her story on the show.

“‘I don’t think I’m gay,'” Wayde recalled his daughter saying in a conversation when she was younger. “‘This is how I identify myself. This is my gender identity. I identify as a young lady. I think I’m a straight trans (girl) because I like boys.'”

According to Wayde, he knew early on that to properly support his daughter he’d have to evaluate himself.

Admitting that he himself had never known or been aware of someone who had come out as a member of the LGBTQ community, Wayde decided to sit down with Union and research as much as they could. They even reached out to members of the LGBTQ community to better understand how to support Zaya. On her own, Union reached out to members of the FX show “Pose” for help. 

“I’ve been a person in a locker room that has been a part of the conversation that has said the wrong phrases and the wrong words myself,” Wayde admitted during his interview. “And as I got older and as I watched my daughter grow, I had to go and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Who are you? What are you going to do if your child comes home and says, “Dad, I’m not a boy … I’m a trans girl.” What are you going to do?’ That was my moment of real.”

Speaking about Zaya, Wayde said that he feels it is his responsibility to help support others in the LGBTQ community.

“We know there’s other families out there dealing with their kid finding themselves and learning who they are,” Wayde explained. “I’m not going to sit here and act like we have all the answers. I’m not going to sit here and act like before our child came home and sat us down, that we weren’t ignorant parents when it comes to the world. When I say we’re learning from our 12-year-old, we’re literally learning from our child.” 

Watch the full interview here.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Going To Be A Guest Judge On The New Season Of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Entertainment

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Going To Be A Guest Judge On The New Season Of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

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The new season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will be here before you know it and finally know who the guest judges will be this year. RuPaul has a knack for bringing some of the best guest judges to the show. We finally know the new list of guest judges and one of them is none other than “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fan Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The new season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is premiering on Feb. 28 and we finally know the guest judges.

We can also expect to see Chaka Khan, Daisy Ridley, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Goldblum, Jonathan Bennett, Leslie Jones, Nicki Minaj, Normani Kordei, Olivia Munn, Rachel Bloom, Robyn, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, and Winnie Harlow to take their place at the judge’s table.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” fan AOC is obviously thrilled to be on the show.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has been around for 12 seasons and the popularity of the show has never been higher. Drag has taken over mainstream pop culture and the excitement of AOC and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fans is proof of the show’s power.

This isn’t the first time a member of the United States’ Congress appeared on the drag competition show.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi joined RuPaul in the workroom on All-Stars Season 3. Trixie Mattel went on to win that season but Pelosi’s visit to the workroom left the queens and audience members gagging. Pelosi, who was the Democratic leader of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, shared her message about the importance of voting.

It’s a fitting time for AOC to be included as a guest judge on the show.

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One year before AOC was sworn in as a member of Congress, she was celebrating Pelosi’s appearance. The then-candidate for Congress even offered to host a viewing party of an episode of All-Stars Season 3.

Wigs are still missing after the news broke on Twitter.

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It was just a little unexpected. It is also so exciting to see politicians participating as guest judges on a drag competition show. It is more than just someone judging drag queens, it means more. It represents progress within our society that has created a safer and more accepting world for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The season hasn’t even aired and there are already stans.

That’s the power of politics + drag. Drag is inherently political. Drag queen culture is a counter-culture that has pushed the envelope for the LGBTQ+ community. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is expanding that tradition and responsibility and bringing drag into homes all over the world normalizing LGBTQ+ and drag culture.

Way to go, AOC.

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Everyone who judges on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” brings the looks. AOC is no exception and her look is giving us every emotion. Get it, AOC.

READ: AOC Went To A Drag Show And It Is The Most Beautiful Moment Captured On Social Media