Things That Matter

New York City Is Finally Dedicating A Memorial To The Two Trans Women Of Color Who Started The Gay Liberation Movement

@mondokoosh / Twitter

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.

@mondokoosh / Twitter

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.

@ajplus / Twitter

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.

@outmagazine / Twitter

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.

@them / Twitter

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.

@lisekimhorton / Twitter

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.

@cmmnst_fr_ses / Twitter

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.

@_AshLake_ / Twitter

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.

@velociraptom / Twitter

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.

@TDPandGT / Twitter

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.

@ilhanMN / Twitter

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.

@phillyhomo / Twitter

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.

READ: The Stonewall Inn Is The First LGBTQ National Monument And This Is Why It Matters To Latinos

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history. 

Two Trans Latinas In New York Are Starting A Beauty Co-Op To Help Trans Women Build Their Businesses

Entertainment

Two Trans Latinas In New York Are Starting A Beauty Co-Op To Help Trans Women Build Their Businesses

mirror_cooperative_ / Instagram

Four years ago, Lesly Herrera Castillo and Joselyn Mendoza both had a vision to create a worker-owned makeup and hair salon for the trans Latino community in Jackson Heights, New York. It was ambitious and for them, it was necessary. For years, the duo faced racial and gender discrimination from employers. Their own community, Jackson Heights, was also becoming a problem as the area became the site of multiple anti-trans hate crimes in recent years. So they came together with a plan to open Mirror Beauty Cooperative in 2015.

The beauty shop would create numerous jobs for the local trans community but more importantly assist undocumented individuals who were denied opportunities due to their legal status. So Castillo and Mendoza made the important decision to register the business as a cooperative cooperation (co-op). This was done so the salon would basically be “worker-run” and there would be no need for things like social security numbers, an obstacle many undocumented workers face when applying to jobs. Instead, the salon will use individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs).

“The significance of the cooperative for me is that it’s an opportunity to create more jobs and make a space that’s free of discrimination,” Mendoza told the HuffPost. “As trans women, we don’t often have access to a healthy economy, and this allows us to change that and obtain other services like health care.”

While their idea started four years ago, the duo hasn’t yet obtained a physical space to open up the salon. But they hope with enough support this vision can become a reality. 

Credit: @equalityfed / Twitter

While both Castillo and Mendoza haven’t opened up a physical salon space, they are both continuing to work in other salons as they continue to save and plan for the Mirror Beauty Cooperative. This past May they began to reach out to more people to help fund their goal through a GoFundMe Campaign. The results of the campaign fund have been less than 1 percent of their $150,000 goal. The duo has also faced other socioeconomic setbacks like lack of traditional education and the economic instability due to their immigrant background. 

“Latina trans women always have multiple obstacles in the way,” Mendoza said. “I think if a collective of white trans women were to start a project like this, their incubation process would be faster than ours because of their historical access to privilege.” 

But Herrera notes that the white trans community is still an ally to them even though they are on different economic levels. “We can always depend on the white trans community” to offer support “because they know they’re on a better [economic] level.”

For the trans, gender-queer and nonbinary community, job discrimination has been a reoccurring issue. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 16 percent of gender-queer and nonbinary respondents who had held jobs reported having been fired for their gender identity or expression. But for trans women and trans people of color, they were the most likely to have gone through this. 

While the salon is still in progress, Castillo and Mendoza have become a presence in their own neighborhood uplifting and bringing attention to the trans Latino community. 

As of now, the duo has a secret backup plan in case they don’t meet their fundraising goals by the end of the year. They hope that the campaign does one thing though, create and share their broader call for building community with people. 

That has already started to take place as Castillo, Hernandez and their new partner, Jonahi Rosa have all become presences in Jackson Heights advocating for the trans community. The trio even participated in the Queens Pride Parade as co-grand marshals. This has also included various charity events for local LGTBQ+ youth. 

They all feel that the salon has the potential to bring people together and spread awareness about issues that affect their lives every day. From the start, the trio has always wanted to not only create a space for the trans community but give them an opportunity. 

“We want to work, [and] we want to give agency to our community,” Rosa said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for our community to come together and make something for our future.”

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