Each week we will highlight one of the many activists whose contributions helped shape the Pride movement in a crucial way in honour of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Latina-American drag queen Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) became one of the most radical LGBT+ activists of the 1960s and 70’s. Also known for her participation in the Stonewall Riots, she and fellow friend and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson (read more about Marsha here) established the political organization STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). When discussing her relevance in LGBT+ history, she said: “We were the frontliners. We didn’t take no shit from nobody... We had nothing to lose.”
Rivera had a defiant attitude towards labels and was known for being a confounding figure for many in the mainstream gay liberation movement. This was due to her diverse and complex background: She was poor, transgender, a drag queen, Latin-American, former sex-worker and experienced addiction, incarceration and homelessness. This is why she not only fought for LGBT+ rights, but was also passionate in emphasizing racial, economic and criminal justice issues within her activism.
Rivera was one of the pivotal activists who ensured the ‘’T’’ in LGBTQ. So far, she’s the only transgender person featured in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum.