Street Trans Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was founded as a caucus within Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in 1971 to put forth trans demands in the gay liberation movement. The co-founder of STAR, Sylvia Rivera, was a Puerto Rican trans woman who led the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 along with other trans of color. Yet gradually, the gay liberation movement was co-opted by white middle-class folks who are gender-conforming and became conservative. Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a New York based gay rights group was founded by ex-members of GLF who did not appreciate its radicalism and wanted to form a single-issued organization that only focused on reformist gay rights. GAA’s conservatism and transphobia showed when they dropped the trans demands while advocating citywide anti-discrimination rights in the 70s. They saw actions put on by STAR and Sylvia Rivera as too “dangerous,” “crazy,” and “extreme.”
Trans folks were not only attacked by mainstream gay rights groups but also in their own neighborhoods. In the West Village, a gentrified gay neighborhood, trans sex workers, who were mostly homeless and of color, were kicked out of the streets by white gay homeowners because they were “low-class, vulgar transvestites” not the usual entertaining drag queens. A real-estate-driven Quality of Life campaign led by the city continually pushed for the closure of clubs where trans folks hung out. Fighting for trans rights is thus a class issue. Rivera, who was homeless herself, saw the link and pushed STAR to organize a community space for homeless trans folks as well as fight for labor justice. They found a building for street gay kids, fed them and clothed them, while the government was cutting the healthcare, taking away food stamps, and putting more people with AIDS, youth, and women on the street. In Leslie Feinberg Interviews Sylvia Rivera, Rivera reiterates the importance of not only doing community work but also fighting against the government and the ruling class. STAR joined the mass demonstration with the Young Lords, a revolutionary Puerto Rican youth group, against police repression in 1970. STAR also built alliances with the Housing Works Transgender Working Group and the New York Direct Action Nextwork Labor Group to form picket lines at a club where a trans dancer was dismissed from work. Fighting for trans rights is a class issue–to resist the rich property owners who push trans folks out of their neighborhoods, to confront the managers that try to fire trans workers, and to fight back against the state that cuts back healthcare.
Trans folks of color have faced disproportional economic oppression and extreme forms of violence. The challenge of queer and gender liberation requires building organizing space for trans and queer folks in the Left. As organizers, my questions for you all are:
1. Many trans folks have formed identity-based organizations to fight for trans rights predomoniantly on the level of non-profits–why is there a lack of trans presence in the Left? How have we taken trans liberation in our anti-patriarchal politics or how have we failed to do so? How can we constructively to change this? [Read more →]
the primarily young street people, be they trans, gay, lesbian, that fought for Power to ALL the People (a common chant used by Sylvia). At the center of these struggles was the Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), a group of young street transvestites whose mission proclaimed an end to the injustices of deadly prison conditions, daily police harassment, a hostile and malevolent legal and mental health system, discrimination against street transvestites in employment and housing. The key visionaries of S.T.A.R. (Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson) envisioned a group and home for the abandoned street transvestite youths; and this organization stood for a social revolution and a dismantling of the very state institutions of a capatalistic system and society that was directly responsible for many of these horrific oppressions.
I have copied below Jimmy Centola’s poem written in the seventies called the “Divas of Sheridan Square” which pays homage to the denizens of Sheridan Square, Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson [and Sylvia Rivera] among them!
THE DIVAS OF SHERIDAN SQUARE
HAVE YOU SEEN ALL THE DIVAS OF SHERIDAN SQUARE
KROOZIN DOWN TO THE RIVER BY MORTON STREET PIER
SOME ARE DARK, TOUGH AND TAKI, SOME FLAWLESSLY FAIR
I AINT DISHIN
I COULD BE STANDIN THERE
DEAR MISS LANCE, TALL AND TRASHY AND EVER SO PROUD
SHE’S STILL KROOZIN AND LOOSING AND BEING QUITE LOUD
AS SHE SWIHSES BY GAYLY ON HER PINK FAIRY CLOUD
SHE’S A MYSTIC MIRAGE
TO THE WHOLE JOHN WAYNE CROWD
ARE THERE THOSE HOT LEATHER NUMBERS STILL DOIN THE ROCK
ARE THE STREET PEOPLE KROOZIN, THEIR BLUES SHOVED IN HOCK
EACH ONE PAYIN HIGH DUES
IN A HIGH CULTURE SHOCK
IS MISS MARSHA STILL TIPPIN AND SPREADIN GAY JOYS
AINT A THING THAT SHE’S MISSIN, CANT GET FROM THE BOYS
EITHER WORKING THE HIGHWAY OR CHECKING THE SCENE
MISS THING ALWAYS SPARES CHANGE
FOR SOME STONE DYING QUEEN
IS THE FAIR ROLLERINA STILL SKATING AROUND
IS SHE STILL MAKING MAGIC ALL OVER THE TOWN
SHE CAN ROLL UP A RAINBOW AND ROCK IT BACK DOWN
IN HER WHITE FAIRY GOWN
IS MISS BAMBI STILL SLEEPING ALL OVER THE STREET
CAN I STILL COP SOME POPPERS WITH ALL THE ELITE
ARE THE OLD GIRLS STILL TRIPPING, THE CHICKENS STILL SWEET
MISSING ALL THAT’S DISCREET
HAVE YOU SEEN ALL THE DIVAS OF SHERIDAN SQUARE
KROOZIN DOWN TO THE RIVER BY MORTON STREET PIER
SOME ARE DARK, TOUGH AND TAKI, SOME FLAWLESSLY FAIR
I AINT DISHIN
I COULD BE STANDIN THERE
Jerimarie notes: Rollerina (from stonewall remembrance) A tranny called Rollerina glided around on roller skates. She wore an antique faded beige party dress, making graceful backward circles. Her poker face and gray wig, pulled back into a bun, gave her the appearance of a thin specter from an southern gothic novel. She waved her magic wand blessing the passers by. There was a glittered star at its tip: Dorothy’s Good Witch.
From Lady Clover Honey’s blog: Rollerina is the celebrated Drag Queen who was known in the 1970s for roller skating around the streets of Greenwich Village the paths of Central Park and the dance floor of Studio 54. She would wear flowing skirts, church lady hats, crazy glasses and blessed people with her fairy wand. She is still around today, kicking and making appearances – although she no longer roller skates. She is especially revered by Drag Queen artists today, whom she paved the way for. Decorating the walls of The Center were works of art re-created by artist David Avielles that were seen at the original Studio 54, including the infamous Man In the Moon with a Cocaine Spoon wall sculpture. “The Center does not condone drug use.” explained Dance 208 manager Joe Fiore. “The Moon is there for nostalgic reasons only.” Joe didn’t think it was proper to reveal a lady’s age when he introduced Rollerina for her big speech, but she proudly announced that she was 60 years old. She later said to me “I feel like I’m 40 and I don’t even use Viagra!” She also said she was proud to have me as a God Daughter. One of her favorite memories of Studio 54 was Halloween of 1977 when a prop that looked like a popper sprayed everyone on the dance floor with fairy glitter. Studio 54 is no longer around, but we all are glad that Rollerina is still here, still celebrating original gender expression and creativity and an inspiration to us all.
Miss Bambi is Bambi L’Amour from S.T.A.R. Bambi and Sylvia first met in Rikers Island and both were founders of S.T.A.R. (The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York by Stephan L.
Marsha “Pay it (snap of the fingers) No Mind” Johnson needs no footnotes, she is our history!
When the name Sylvia Rivera is mentioned, without a doubt ones first thought, comment or reflection is that “Sylvia is widely credited with throwing the first shoe (or depending upon the remembrance first or second bottle, Molotov cocktail, etc) at Stonewall.” From that point on, the remembrance and analysis of Sylvia is strongly influenced by this pivotal moment in queer history. Very little of what is remembered, spoken or written about Sylvia deviates much from that of her involvement in Stonewall and the succeeding predominately white, middle class led LGBT movement. And sadly even within the Trans community to which Sylvia dedicated her life to, she is primarily whitewashed along with her radical politics being marginalized or even totally omitted!
However, Sylvia like most great figures in history was a true social justice revolutionary, if not insurrectionist, figure whose life, beliefs, actions and words embraced an intersectional essence. Jessi Gan’s 2007 Centro Journal piece titled “Still at the back of the bus”: Sylvia Rivera’s Struggle is one of the few pieces that critique’s the remembrance of Sylvia Rivera by many writers in light of their clear omission of Sylvia’s intersectionality. Sylvia remained predominately an unknown figure ~ even though her activism, writings and influence within the New York City “gay and lesbian” movement of the late sixties and early seventies, albeit short lived, was highly influential. It was not until the publication of Martin Dubermans Stonewall that her role in the Stonewall riots became widely known. And not long after this, Sylvia re-emerged onto the NYC scene with her innate anger and passion fighting loudly for queer street youth and Trans folks of color, until her untimely death in February 2002. Even after her death however, the name Sylvia Rivera and Stonewall were so intertwined that much of her revolutionary social justice work was never recognized. Fortunately due to the extensive research and subsequent publication of The Gay Liberation Movement in New York, Stephan L. Cohen puts into context a picture of Sylvia that goes far beyond Stonewall, and allows us a glimpse into her life and her actions via an excellent treatise on S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries).
With the rise of Transgender politics during the 1990′s, Sylvia became the matriarch of this resurgent movement. However her stature in this movement was primarily due to her documented role in the Stonewall riots, and this was used by many transgender activists to demand a seat within the gay and lesbian movement and the inclusion of transgender within the existing gay and lesbian organizations and civil rights struggles.ce. Jessi Gan’s 2007 Centro Journal piece titled “Still at the back of the bus”: Sylvia Rivera’s Struggle is one of the few pieces that critique’s the remembrance of Sylvia Rivera by many writers in light of their clear omission of Sylvia’s intersectionality. Sylvia remained predominately an unknown figure ~ even though her activism, writings and influence within the New York City “gay and lesbian” movement of the late sixties and early seventies, albeit short lived, was highly influential. It was not until the publication of Martin Dubermans Stonewall that her role in the Stonewall riots became widely known. And not long after this, Sylvia re-emerged onto the NYC scene with her innate anger and passion fighting loudly for queer street youth and Trans folks of color, until her untimely death in February 2002. Even after her death however, the name Sylvia Rivera and Stonewall were so intertwined that much of her revolutionary social justice work was never recognized. Fortunately due to the extensive research and subsequent publication of The Gay Liberation Movement in New York, Stephan L. Cohen puts into context a picture of Sylvia that goes far beyond Stonewall, and allows us a glimpse into her life and her actions via an excellent treatise on S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries).nto context a picture of Sylvia that goes far beyond Stonewall, and allows us a glimpse into her life and her actions via an excellent treatise on S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries).
Yet coming back to the analysis by Jessi Gan I reproduce the section below which goes to the heart that Sylvia was much more than Stonewall. In fact the underpinnings of the Stonewall rebellion actually reflected more of the class and race issues faced by queer street youth rather than the traditionally embraced view that has enabled middle class white gays and lesbians to view themselves as resistant and radical.
“… just as “gay” had excluded “transgender” in the Stonewall imaginary, the claim that “transgender people were at Stonewall too” enacted its own omissions of difference and hierarchy within the term “transgender.” Rivera was poor and Latina, while some transgender activists making political claims on the basis of her history were white and middle-class. She was being praised for becoming visible as transgender while her racial and class visibility were being simultaneously concealed. Some recovery projects lubricated by Rivera’s memory-in their simultaneous forgetting of the white supremacist and capitalist logics that had constructed her raced and classed otherness-served to unify transgender politics along a gendered axis. The elisions enabled transgender activist Leslie Feinberg, in hir book Trans Liberation, to invoke a broad coalition of people united solely by a political desire to take gender “beyond pink or blue.” This pluralistic approach celebrated Rivera’s struggle as one “face” in a sea of “trans movement” faces. The anthology GenderQueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary, similarly, called for a “gender movement” that would ensure “full equality for all Americans regardless of gender.” The inclusion of Rivera’s life story in the largely white GenderQueer lent a multicultural “diversity” and historical authenticity to the young, racially unmarked coalitional identity, “genderqueer,” that had emerged out of middle-class college settings. But the elision of intersectionality in the name of coalitional myth-making served to reinscribe other myths. The myth of equal transgender oppression left capitalism and white supremacy unchallenged, often foreclosing coalitional alignments unmoored from gender analysis, while enabling transgender people to avoid considering their complicity in the maintenance of simultaneous and interlocking systems of oppression. Rivera is, moreover, profoundly important in a Latina, transgender, and queer historiography where histories of transgender people of color are few and far between.
Sylvia: Insurrectionist, Mother, Visionary, Revolutionary
To paraphrase Jessi Gan, an analysis of Sylvia’s life should alert us to the simple fact that trans visibility is not a simple binary of male/female; though rather an intersection of the multiple kinds of visibilities, differentially situated in relation to power, intersect and overlap in people’s lives. The consequences of visibility are determined in part by one’s place in society, and by the systems of power that define gendered and racialized meanings onto the bodies discrimination. [Read more →]
I was asked to provide a brief account of my making of a documentary about the Hartford “Houses” and associated Balls that were so prominent in the early ‘90’s. This documentary was titled: While Paris Was Burning, Hartford Sizzled and was shown to a packed audience at the 2004 Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Film festival.
One glorious day, in the pre-gentrification times of Tisane’s, I was having a cup of coffee with the love of my life Anja and we ran into Dr. Richard Stillson, aka “Mucha Mucha Pleasure” the mother of the former Hartford House of Pleasure! As Mucha and I chatted, I had lamented the lack of Trans social organizations or events in Connecticut. At that point, Mucha began to tell me a little about the Hartford Houses and Balls that were prominent in the Hartford LGBT scene in the early nineties. This was the first I had ever heard of these and was totally enthralled by the story and the visions the Balls evoked. As I expressed a deeper interest in this topic, Mucha relayed to me that there were videotapes that were taken at these balls. At that moment, I truly gasped and said to Mucha, “we must document this vital queer history of Hartford!” [Read more →]
The following is a copy of a draft flyer that was on my (jerimarie) old AOL account sent by Carolyn Gabel(-Brett) dated 9/12/99. Perhaps a final hard copy is over at the CCSU Archives.
Connecticut Stonewall Foundation
In Recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month
HOLD THE DATE: October 23rd Conference
“Celebrating Our Life Stories
and Our Relationships”
The Connecticut Stonewall Foundation is proud to announce the Second Day Long conference celebrating LGBT History month in Connecticut. The event is entitled “Celebrating Our Life Stories and Our Relationships” and will be held from 9:00 AM until 5:30 PM, October 23rd, 1999 at Trinity College, Hartford. This event features a keynote speech from the Stonewall Veteran – Sylvia Rivera in addition to workshops, panels, and exhibits on LGBT relationships.
The event will conclude with celebration and music featuring Mystery Date. Further details will be forthcoming in your late September mail, so be sure to mark your calendars for this October 23, 1999, event at Trinity College, Hartford.[Read more →]
First, a discussion about the enduring impact of the Stonewall riots of 1969, a series of violent conflicts between New York City police officers and groups of gay and transgendered people. Panelists include Martin Duberman, author of “Stonewall”, riot participant Jim Fouratt, and Barbara Smith, co-founder and publisher of “Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press” and editor of “Home Girls”. Then, a conversation about the differing viewpoints of the modern gay rights movement with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, Andrew Sullivan, editor of “The New Republic” magazine, Bruce Bawer, author of “A Place at the Table”, and “Village Voice” writer and lesbian activist Donna Minkowitz.
As part of QWB’s queer history project, the following is an excellent summary of the period known as the “Lesbian Backlash.” This article is an archive piece from the now defunct TransHistory.net (Transsexual, Transgender and Intersex History”) maintained by Kay Brown. Also see the earlier QWB piece from Outrage ’69.
The modern era of the gay & lesbian rights movement is usually marked as starting on a hot July evening at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The New York police, as many city police departments across the United States did, made period raids on sexual minority bars to harass and arrest the patrons. On this particular night, transgendered woman, Sylvia Rivera, resisted arrest, touching off a riot that continued for three nights running.In the next year, three transgendered people, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Angela Keyes Douglas would play pivotal roles in organizing the emergent Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. The goal of the Gay Liberation Front was complete acceptance of sexual diversity and expression. But by 1971 the gay men’s community had returned to the assimilationist strategy as the lesbians, in 1973, turned to separatism and radical feminism. There seemed to be no room for transgendered people in either camp.In 1971, the GAA wrote and introduced a bill to the New York City Council that was the first omnibus anti-discrimination bill to protect homosexual people. However, inspite of early and avid support of the GAA by transgendered people the bill completely ignored transgendered people. Silvia Rivera, disgusted by the batrayal, said to the leaders of the GAA, “It’s not us that they are afraid of – its you! Get rid of us. Sell us out. Make us expendable. Then you’re at the front lines. Don’t you understand that?” This marked the first serious batrayal, but certainly not the last.
Disillusioned by the GAA’s betrayal of transgendered people, Angela Douglas formed the Transsexual Activist Organization along the same lines as the GAA, with some of the loftier ideals of the GLF. She began publishing MoonShadow, a quirky newsletter for and about transgendered people and the struggle for legal rights. [Read more →]