Fierce

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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This Digital Posada Is All About Helping The LGBTQ Migrant Community, Who Face A Uniquely Challenging Reality

Things That Matter

This Digital Posada Is All About Helping The LGBTQ Migrant Community, Who Face A Uniquely Challenging Reality

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With homosexuality still illegal in more than 60 countries around the world and attitudes towards transgendered people often even less welcoming, it’s obvious why so many people risk their lives to migrate to the United States.

However, that journey to a better life is often one of many dangerous hurdles and often times, once swept up in immigration proceedings, things don’t get much better.

LGBTQ detainees across the country have shared harrowing experiences of being mocked or tortured for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Many others have been sexually assaulted while in ICE custody or while waiting for their asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border. And transgendered and HIV-positive detainees have both been denied medically necessary healthcare that has posed a risk to their lives.

LGBTQ migrants have the same issues and problems to worry about that all other migrants face, however, the LGBTQ experience comes with several extra hurdles.

LGBTQ migrants coming to the U.S. face unique challenges that often put them at increased risk of violence.

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Like so many others, LGBTQ migrants are often fleeing violence and persecution in their native countries. But despite often fleeing sexual violence and trans- and homophobia, so many migrants are sexually assaulted while in U.S. custody.

While just 0.14 percent of ICE detainees self-identified as LGBTQ in 2017, they reportedly accounted for 12 percent of sexual abuse and assault victims.

Based on a new report from the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization, LGBTQ migrants in federal detention centers are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other detainees.

Studies show LGBTQ migrants are among the most vulnerable, more likely to be assaulted and killed, especially trans migrants. Of Central American LGBTQ migrants interviewed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017, 88 percent were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin; two-thirds suffered similar attacks in Mexico.

Human rights group allege that ICE fails to provide proper medical care to LGBTQ migrants – particularly trans and HIV-positive detainees.

Migrant advocacy groups and several lawmakers have demanded that ICE release all LGBTQ detainees and anyone with HIV in the agency’s custody, because the government has repeatedly failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care to them.

“We know that lack of medical and mental-health care, including lack of HIV care, is the norm,” Roger Coggan, director of legal services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “By the Department of Homeland Security’s own count, 300 individuals identifying as transgender have been in custody and at the mercy of ICE since October of 2018.

For detainees with HIV, antiretroviral treatment is necessary to help kill and suppress the virus which ensures a healthy life but also reduces the risk of transmission to basically zero. Yet ICE is failing to provide this life-saving care.

Johana Medina Leon, a transgender woman who was detained at Otero and had tested positive for HIV, fell seriously ill and died at a hospital in nearby El Paso. Leon, 25, was the second trans woman to die in ICE custody in New Mexico in the past year. Roxsana Hernandez, 33, died in November 2018 after falling ill at the Cibola County Correctional Facility.

Meanwhile, Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy is presenting additional challenges to the LGBTQ community.

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While the Trump administration has severely limited asylum qualifications for Central Americans fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse, migrants can still request asylum based on persecution because of their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. But their path is far from easy.

The administration continues to return LGBTQ migrants to Mexican border cities where they face assaults, kidnappings and death while they await U.S. court hearings.

“Here, the same as at home, the police discriminate against us,” Alejandro Perez told NBC News in early October. “We’re very vulnerable. I don’t feel safe here in Mexico.”

Border Patrol officials initially said “vulnerable” asylum seekers would be exempted from the Remain in Mexico program, including those who are LGBTQ, pregnant or disabled. But that hasn’t been the case.

Thankfully, the LGBTQ Center Orange County is working hard to protect and help the most vulnerable.

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest undocumented community, which means organizations like the LGBTQ Center Orange County have their work cut out for them. However, the center has proudly stood up to help in powerful and life-changing ways.

The LGBTQ Center OC is one of the leading migrant outreach centers in the region, attending numerous events throughout the year and providing outreach at the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana – each year reaching more than 5,000 people. The center also played a pivotal role in ending the partnership of Santa Ana Police and the Orange County Sheriff with ICE, bringing an end to ICE detention within the county.

As those migrants were detained at facilities outside the county – sometimes more than two hours away – the center mobilized volunteers to help stay in touch with detainees. This team helps provide much needed companionship through letters and notes, as well as providing legal representation and even cash payments that help detainees get everything from a filling meal to in-person visits.

And the work the center does is so important because it shouldn’t just be on detainees to speak out. All of us as part of the LGBTQ and migrant communities should support those in detention and speak out about the injustices they’re suffering in detention.

The Center is hosting a digital posada and you’re invited!

We all know the tradition of a posada. So many of us grew up with a holiday season full of them and although this year will look very different (thanks to Covid-19), the LGBTQ Center OC wants to keep the tradition and celebration alive.

Posadas commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph in search of a safe refuge, a sentiment that so many migrants and refugees in our communities can relate to. It’s with this spirit that the center is hosting it’s annual posada – but virtually.

The important event is free for all to attend but is a critical fundraising event that enables the center to do all that it does for the LGBTQ migrant community across Southern California. You can learn more and RSVP here but just know that it’s an event you do not want to miss.

Not only will you be able to virtually hang out with members of the community and leaders from the LGBTQ Center OC but there will also be a screening of the short documentary, Before & After Detention, a spirited round of lotería, raffle, and a live performance by the LGBTQ Mariachi Arcoíris de Los Angeles.

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Selena Gomez Will Play Trailblazing Gay Mountaineer Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

Entertainment

Selena Gomez Will Play Trailblazing Gay Mountaineer Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

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Selena Gomez is ready to make mountains into movies

The Texas-born singer, actress, and producer has set her sights on a big-screen biopic about Peruvian mountaineer Silvia Vásquez-Lavado who became the first Peruvian woman to summit Mount Everest. Vásquez-Lavado is also the first openly gay woman to scale the Seven Summits in their entirety.

In the Shadow of the Mountain is an upcoming biopic based on Vásquez-Lavado’s memoir of the same name.

The Seven Summits challenge encourages climbers to climb the highest mountain on each continent.

Vásquez-Lavado’s story of pursuit and inspiration will be produced by Scott Budnick’s impact-focused co-finance company One Community. The company is a film, television, and digital content co-financing company that “harnesses the power of storytelling to inspire and encourage positive change in the world.” The film aligns with One Community’s efforts given the fact that Vásquez-Lavado’s story follows her childhood experience of assault and neglect. According to Vásquez-Lavado mountaineering proved to be a source of healing.

Vásquez-Lavado’s memoir In the Shadow of the Mountain is scheduled to be published in winter 2022.

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I am so humbled and grateful to share this thrilling news, which has been in the works for the last 10months, that an all-star team has optioned my upcoming memoir In The Shadow of the Mountain (to be published 02-2022 by @madelinecjones Holt/Macmillan) for a movie adaptation. I am so honored and touched for the bold, talented, and brilliant @selenagomez in taking the starring role and as producer; To her incredible team @zackmorgenroth and @aleenkeshishian; Grateful to have the groundbreaking visionary #DonnaGigliotti and her Tempesta films involved; For the talented @elginnjames on the helm for screenplay and direction; And the support of @onecommunity films led by the trailblazer @scottbudnick1 and @lauren_denormandie None of this would have happened without the faith of my amazing family at @ideaarchitects, my incredible agent and dearest friend @laralovehardin, #dougabrams and my sweet family at WME led by #sylvierabineau and #carolinabeltran And to all of my family and friends, thank you for all your words of encouragement and support along this road. I can’t wait to share more! Link on my bio!

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Vásquez-Lavado’s work in survivor circles has been heralded, particularly her efforts to organize treks to Mt. Everest’s base camp for other women who have endured abuse.”

Oscar-winner Donna Gigliotti who is set to produce the film, called Vásquez-Lavado “a force of nature.” Scott and I are so excited to work with Elgin and Selena to tell this story of resilience, courage, adventure, and humanity.”

Gigliotti has worked on acclaimed films such as best picture Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love, she also produced films such as The Reader, Silver Linings Playbook, and Hidden Figures.

“We are thrilled to get to work bringing Silvia’s incredible and inspiring story to life onscreen,” Budnick said of the film.

Gomez will produce the film through her July Moon Productions. Vásquez-Lavado will executive produce.

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