US: Life of a trans activist is celebrated, not forgotten

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Wednesday, the LGBT community remembered the life of trans activist Sylvia Rivera on what would have been her 63rd birthday.

Rivera, a transgender woman, activist and veteran of the Stonewall riots, died in 2002 from end-stage liver disease. She was an advocate of trans inclusion within the gay rights movement and founded numerous gay and trans advocacy organisations.

She worked tirelessly in 1971 to support an anti-discrimination bill within the New York City Council, though language protecting transgender individuals was eventually dropped from the bill.

Activist Riki Wilchins once referred to Rivera as the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement. Rivera founded the Gay Liberation Front, the gay Activist Alliance and Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR).

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project was founded in August 2002 in Rivera’s honour. SRLP is a non-profit organisation run by and for low-income trans communities and trans communities of colour. It provides legal services, public education and works towards policy change through community organising.

Reina Gossett, SRLP’s Director of Membership, said she is moved and inspired by the life of Rivera.

She said: “I could not think of a better way to be celebrating her birthday than lifting up her legacy!

“I think that Sylvia Rivera’s heart would be lifted to see the level of recognition her life’s work is receiving right now, especially as trans people fight to increase access to basic needs like housing, healthcare, and safety from criminalisation and other forms of violence. I think she would caution against accepting visibility without control over representation. She would continue to be critical about the level of commercialisation within trans movements and lead us in creating our own stories, our own media, and our own visibility.”

Rivera was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent and is largely remembered for being one of the first to stand up to police during the Stonewall riots.

While this June marked the 45th anniversary of Stonewall, it was also the deadliest month in 2014 for trans women of color, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Four transgender women of colour were killed during the month of June.