Sylvia Rivera, 1951-2002

  • Sylvia-Rivera-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & FeminismWoman Tags: Latina Women, LGBTQ, and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    Transgender rights activist, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and the co-founder of STAR.

    Born as Ray Rivera in NYC to parents of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent. Her father abandoned the family soon after she was born, and she became an orphan at the age of 3 after her mother committed suicide. Afterward, Rivera was raised by her grandmother, who disapproved of her feminine behavior. Bullied both at home and school, 11 years old Rivera left her grandmother’s house to live on the streets, where she worked as a child prostitute. A local community of drag queens took her under their protection and gave her the name “Sylvia”.
    At 18, after the Stonewall riots, Rivera joined the Gay Activists Alliance, where she fought for gay rights and especially for the inclusion of drag queens in the LGBT community. Together with Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to support homeless queer youth. Her focus as a gay liberation advocate was on the rights of people of color, homeless youth, and gay prisoners. She was also a loud supporter of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York – a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, education, housing, credit, public accommodations, and the exercise of civil rights.
    In 1973, Rivera and Johnson were banned from a gay rights rally because “drag queens giving the community a bad name”. Rivera burst onto the stage and made a speech in which she criticized the gay community for ignoring trans people and marginalizing the already repressed. After the rally, she had a breakdown, and she attempted suicide. She was found and saved, disbanded STAR, and left activism for almost 20 years. The death of Marsha P. Johnson in 1992 had a significant impact on her, returning to substance abuse and living on the streets.
    But once again, Rivera was managed to rehabilitate herself and resumed her political activity. She worked at the food pantry of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, gave speeches promoting Trans rights, and in 2000, she traveled to Italy for the Millennium March, where she was announced as the “mother of all gay people.” In 2001, Rivera renewed STAR as a political organization, which fought for trans-inclusive and promoted the NYC Transgender Rights Bill. Even on her deathbed, she kept on fighting for the inclusion of trans and gender-nonconforming people. She died from liver cancer at the age of 51.

    “We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are.
    We have to show the world that we’re numerous.
    There are many of us out there”

    “We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are.
    We have to show the world that we’re numerous.
    There are many of us out there”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Though Rivera insists she was one of the leading figures of the Stonewall riots, most witnesses claim that she wasn’t at the bar when the uprising sparked.
    • She refused to label her identity, referring herself sometimes as a gay man, a gay girl, or a drag queen. Mostly she identified herself simply as Sylvia.
    • The MCC New York’s queer youth shelter is named “Sylvia’s Place” in her honor.
    • The NYC based legal aid organization “Sylvia Rivera Law Project” is named in her honor.
    • The corner of Christopher and Hudson Streets in the West Village in NYC was renamed “Sylvia Rivera Way” in her honor in 2005.
    • An off-Broadway musical “Sylvia So Far” based upon her life was on stage between 2007-2008.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her


    * Inducted into the Legacy Walk in Chicago, IL

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

    No Records Found

    Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.

    Google Map Not Loaded

    Sorry, unable to load Google Maps API.


  • Woman Tags: Latina Women, LGBTQ, NYC Women


    Sylvia Rivera founded the transgender movement. She organized the very first demonstration specifically for transgendered rights. She got "T" added to LGBT.
    Homeless boy prostitute at twelve, she struggled with drug addiction & alcoholism for much of her life but remained a trailblazer in the fight for social justice, especially transgender & human rights.
    Ultimately, she overcame substance abuse, worked as manager of my art deco antique shop in Greenwich Village
    After years of volunteer work at the homeless kitchen/pantry of NYC's MCC Church got full time employment there.
    She also entered the second long-term relationship during those years & commenced receiving international recognition for her pioneering work before dying suddenly at the age of 52 of liver cancer.
    Today, an organization called 'The Sylvia Rivera Law Project" continues the fight she commenced for fair treatment of transgendered people.
    The Metropolitan Church runs a shelter for homeless trans people, supplying shelter & counseling for trans people on 36th Street in NYC.
    This is a video tribute created by her friends that gives an overview of her life.
    Sylvia Rivera & I, over a period of 32 years went from being arch enemies to being the closest & best of friends. I'm so happy to be able to finally share this video with all of you.
    I have an hour & a half documentary I filmed in 1992 at a homeless encampment composed only of gay alcoholics on "Gay Pier" on NYC's Hudson River in Greenwich Village. Some clips from that film are used in this documentary.

  • Photo credit - Photograph by Valerie Shaff, Wikipedia