New York City Is Finally Dedicating A Memorial To The Two Trans Women Of Color Who Started The Gay Liberation Movement
Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were the first to riot against a police raid at the hallmark birthplace of the LGBT movement: Stonewall Inn. The two trans women of color were frustrated with the consistent raids on gay bars in the city and rioted when police raided Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. New York City is paying tribute to these women who risked their lives and then devoted themselves to helping homeless LGBTQ+ youth by installing a monument in their honor.
A monument honoring Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson will be installed just a block from Stonewall Inn.
On June 28, 1969, the LGBTQ+ community congregated in a quasi-safe space–Stonewall Inn–during a time when LGBTQ+ people gathering was illegal. Police raids were common, and you only had to appear to present outside gender norms to be arrested and put in jail for the night.
When police raided Stonewall Inn, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera rioted throwing bricks at police trying to arrest people.
Witness accounts place Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera as the first to literally throw bricks at the police officers. The act of defiance sparked a riot that swelled during the night. The Gay Liberation Movement was born from the courage of these two women.
Until her death at 50, Rivera was still living on the streets.
This month, Rivera is gracing the cover of Out magazine. She died of complications from liver cancer when she was just 50 years old and was still living on the streets. In fact, she made it a point to sleep just blocks away from the then Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.
She protested the exclusivity of the LGBTQ+ movement for transgender people until she died.
Rivera and Johnson formed STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and opened a shelter for homeless transgender youth–a population being ignored by ‘leaders’ in the LGBTQ+ movement.
Rivera is famously quoted as saying: “You tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will no longer put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have been raped. I have had my nose broken. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation. And you all treat me this way? What the fuck’s wrong with you?”
New Yorkers are feeling proud to house such an important monument for civil rights.
Rivera’s determination to fight for LGBTQ+ rights is something queer Latinos remember to this day. She was the first of our community to help lead a global movement for civil rights that has given LGBTQ+ people the right to live in peace protected from government-sanctioned discrimination.
Some folks think the money should go toward her dying mission: safe housing for trans children.
Rivera met her best friend for life Johnson while they were sex workers on the street. Johnson took Rivera under her wing and taught her how to wear makeup and attract clients.
Other grateful descendants of Rivera’s mission think NY should decriminalize sex work in her honor instead.
At the time, there was no other viable option to survive for trans people other than to perform sex work. That means because of the discrimination against their gender, they were forced into making a living doing illegal jobs. Many sex worker rights activists believe the laws themselves are discriminatory since minorities are often forced into sex work to begin with.
Some people are upset that trans women of color are getting recognition.
It is because of the work of these women that LGBTQ+ people have the right to marry, buy houses, and live life protected from discrimination in some parts of the world. There is still a long way to go for global rights for the LGBTQ+ community, but River and Johnson started it all.
This monument represents decades of work that went ignored by most of the LGBT community and world at large.
They are the gatekeepers and pioneers of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, Rivera was once called the “Rosa Parks of the Modern Transgender Movement,” after she was arrested for trying to climb into a window (in a dress and heels) to be part of the New York City Council’s conversation around a gay rights bill.
Seeing prominent Congress members and other high-profile people honor their names is something that we wouldn’t have seen just 10 years ago.
STAR House went under because of the utter lack of support from the gay community, which forced Rivera herself back onto the streets. She and Johnson were roommates until Johnson died in 1992, which forced her back onto the streets.
The best way to combat transphobia is to make room for trans voices.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson began a movement that the entire LGBTQ+ community benefits from–white men and majority identifiers the most. They never stopped trying to create space for trans people to have choices that didn’t include sex work or prison. Their legacy lives on in how we honor them and their mission. Pa’lante.