Transgender Women

Monumental plan for trans activists

Sylvia Rivera at age 18 in New York City. (Photo by Kay Tobin/NY Public Library) | Thevillager.com

Sylvia Rivera at age 18 in New York City. (Photo by Kay Tobin/NY Public Library) | Thevillager.com

By Gabe Hernan

Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be getting a monument in the city, with the proposed location in the Village at the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced on May 30.

The monument is part of the She Built NYC project, which honors pioneering women. It would be the first permanent public artwork in the world to honor transgender women.

Ruth Wittenberg Triangle is blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, now a national monument and where Johnson and Rivera were key figures in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

In 1970, Johnson and Rivera cofounded STAR, standing for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The group provided housing and support for L.G.B.T. street youth, including transgender sex workers.

The first STAR House was in Greenwich Village, and was the first L.G.B.T. youth shelter in North America. STAR was also the first organization in America led by transgender women of color.

Rivera and Johnson were advocates for many causes and marginalized groups, including homeless people, H.I.V.-positive youth, young people of color marginalized in the broader campaign for L.G.B.T. rights, and people with disabilities. They fought for all people to have proper access to healthcare.

Rivera died from liver cancer at age 50 in 2002. She lived on New York’s streets from a young age, after running away from her grandmother at age 11 due to her criticism of Rivera being gender-defying, according to a She Built NYC bio. Rivera worked as a child prostitute before being taken in by a community of drag queens. She told The Villager that she had lived for a time on the Greenwich Village waterfront.

Rivera brought back STAR in 2001 to campaign for the city’s Transgender Rights Bill and inclusion of transgender protections in the state’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or SONDA.

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