Carmen Carrera has long been an active activist and educator while juggling her own successful modeling career. As a trans woman, Carrera has fought for the right to just live as anybody else in the U.S. is entitled to live. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to do away with federal protections for trans students that were implemented by President Barack Obama has sent waves of shock, anger, and grief through the LGBTQ community. In an interview with People magazine and an op-ed for Cosmopolitan, Carrera argues her case for protecting trans youth in the U.S.
“I wanted to try my best to believe that [Trump would] be here for us and to understand what we were going through. I would just urge him to look at the facts and to understand the people that he’s affecting and how they are being affected,” Carrera told People. “Just take a couple of moments to empathize with what we’re going through.”
Carrera is concerned that Trump’s actions are going to negatively impact America’s trans youth.
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“What’s happening right now is unfair. It sends a message to kids that we need to be segregated and that certain people shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else,” Carrera told Cosmopolitan. “When the leader of our country makes a bold ruling like that, it opens up the door for more bullies and more kids wanting to commit suicide. That’s just terrible.”
Carrera says she experienced the pain and fear of “being different” when she was in grade school.
“Growing up, I was kind of like the quiet, shy kid in school. I got kicked out of Catholic school, by the way, because I was too feminine. I was too feminine and I had a crush on this boy named Anthony and the nuns were not having it,” Carrera told Cosmopolitan. “I ended up going to public school in the first grade, and that’s when I knew I had to be very strategic about my survival in school. I tried my best to be friends with people who were going to protect me. I hid behind people. As a result, I didn’t go to my prom, I didn’t get to have any slumber parties, I didn’t get to develop myself as a young person — it really impaired my growth.”
Now that Carrera is older, she is still learning to grow.
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“We’re going to have to stick together. We’re going to have to be strong,” Carrera told People. “You can reach out to The Trevor Project, they have a hotline that, if you’re feeling down [or] if you feel like you need something really uplifting, you can go and call The Trevor Project.”
At just 11-years-old, Brazilian prize-winning roller-skater Maria Joaquina can skate circles around most of her competitors. Still, despite her level of athleticism, the elite skater is facing various obstacles on her path to success. Mostly because of transphobia.
In a recent report by BBC, Joaquina was celebrated for finishing second in Brazil’s national roller skating championships. Typically, this achievement would have guaranteed her a slot at the South American regionals.
Unfortunately, the South American Skating Confederation is attempting to prevent her from competing.
SASC typically allows skaters to compete as women if they have a female name on their official ID.
Joaquina does not.
Though she goes by a feminine name, the 11-year-old still has the male name given to her at birth on her birth certificate.
When the South American Skating Confederation first contacted Joaquina to notify her that she’d been disqualified from competing, her parents hit back. They took the Confederation to court and ultimately won an injunction that made it so that she would be allowed to skate in the girls’ regional competition.
Then, a seemingly corrupted series of events happened.
The Confederation ordered that the skating order be changed and Joaquina was moved from her original slot as the last competitor to the very first. All without even a slip of notice.
Video of Joaquina taking part in the regional competition that day is hard to watch. With little to no time to prepare, the skater went out onto the floor and fell. Over and over again and when she couldn’t bear it much more she began to cry. All while pushing herself to finish her skate.
In an interview with the BBC, Joaquina’s father explained that it was too much pressure.
“People saying that you’ve not been accepted and [we] don’t want you to compete” had clearly taken its toll on her. And while the Confederation has said that the schedule change was not meant to sabotage Joaquina’s performance, it also reiterated its policy of “only letting skaters compete as women if they have a female name on their official ID.”
And yet, Joaquina has used the experience to continue to florish.
In her interview with BBC she explained that she wanted “people to understand that I’m a girl. It might still say João on my ID, but I know I’m a girl.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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