Long uncredited, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera had been the vanguard of the trendy transgender motion, preventing for the appropriate to gender self-identify when social and legal persecution of homosexual individuals was nonetheless frequent within the state of New York within the Fifties and ’60s. Bars had been banned from promoting alcoholic drinks to homosexuals, and the act of cross-dressing may end in being charged with “sexual deviancy.”
David France, director and producer of the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, advised the Los Angeles Blade that Johnson and Rivera helped begin in the present day’s dialog about gender nonconformity and civil rights, and had been the primary individuals who “conceptualized the idea that the trans community was a distinct community,” with its personal objectives and desires. France believes Johnson and Rivera had been “genuine revolutionaries.”
Johnson and Rivera first bonded via their shared feeling of being outsiders
The fifth of seven youngsters in a non secular, working-class household, Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1945. Johnson mentioned she started sporting clothes round age 5, however stopped because of pressure from other children. After graduating highschool in 1963, Johnson moved to New York City with solely a bag of garments and $15. Often homeless, she engaged in intercourse work and carried out as a drag artist to outlive. First going by the title “Black Marsha,” she finally settled on Marsha P. Johnson, the “P” standing for “Pay it no mind,” the response given when she was questioned about her gender.
Rivera was born in New York City in 1951. Her mom died by suicide when Rivera was 3, and he or she was subsequently raised by her Venezuelan grandmother. She started experimenting with clothes and make-up at a younger age, which resulted in verbal and bodily abuse at house and in school. Rivera left house at age 11 and was quickly hustling round 42nd Street.
Johnson met Rivera in 1963. The pair shaped a detailed bond as outsiders not solely to the social norms of the time, however inside the burgeoning homosexual neighborhood itself. Johnson, a self-identified drag queen (the time period transgender was not generally utilized in Johnson’s lifetime), had by then turn out to be a distinguished determine within the downtown LGBTQ+ neighborhood, revered for her distinctive, ethereal, typically scavenged apparel and for her function as a gracious, caring “drag mother” serving to struggling and homeless youth. “I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville, until I became a drag queen,” Johnson said in a 1992 interview. “That’s what made me in New York, that’s what made me in New Jersey, that’s what made me in the world.”
Together they created STAR which advocated for transgender rights
Rivera’s fiery demeanor and easier look contrasted Johnson’s, however the two grew to become fixtures of the Christopher Street homosexual neighborhood and had been distinguished figures within the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969, when neighborhood residents and patrons of the bar fought again towards a police raid. The public rebellion served as a catalyst for the homosexual rights motion, with Johnson and Rivera on the front lines. A yr later, the primary homosexual pleasure parade was held in New York City, and Johnson joined Rivera in founding STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which advocated for the rights of younger transgender individuals and provided meals and sanctuary to homeless youth. At the time, Johnson said her objective was “to see gay people liberated and free and to have equal rights that other people have in America.”
As a part of the Gay Activists Alliance, Rivera labored to go a homosexual rights invoice in New York City, even being arrested when she climbed the partitions of City Hall in a costume and heels. But inside a number of years, the GAA had dropped transgender considerations from its agenda, in favor of extra outward assimilation. “When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, ‘We don’t need you anymore,’” Rivera advised the Village Voice of how transgender people had become a subculture within a subculture. Galvanized to fight even harder, Rivera warned: “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
A visible presence at gay liberation marches and political action protests, Johnson, Rivera and the growing trans community were banned from participating in the 1973 gay pride parade by the gay and lesbian organizing committee, reportedly due to the notion that drag queens did not shine a favorable light on the movement. In defiance, Johnson and Rivera marched ahead of the parade.
The pair grew apart over time due to distance
Their friendship faded when Rivera moved to Tarrytown, New York in the mid 1970s and Johnson remained in New York City, where she continued to be a fixture of the gay activist community. Though she suffered mental breakdowns, arrests and continued homelessness, Johnson joined street activist groups such as ACT UP in the 1980s to raise awareness of the growing AIDS epidemic. During a 1992 interview, Johnson revealed she had been HIV-positive for two years. “They call me a legend in my own time, because there were so many queens gone that I’m one of the few queens left from the ‘70s and ’80s,” she said.
That same year, Johnson’s body was discovered floating in the Hudson River near the Christopher Street piers. Originally classified as suicide, Johnson’s cause of death was changed to drowning from undetermined causes. Though authorities reexamined the case in 2012, it remains open.
Returning to New York City soon after her friend’s death, Rivera took up residence on the Christopher Street Piers and continued her advocacy for homeless members of the gay community. In 1997, Rivera founded Transy House in Park Slope, Brooklyn to honor Johnson’s reminiscence, and in 2001 Rivera resurrected STAR as an lively political group, with the phrase Transvestite within the title being modified to the extra just lately coined Transgender. Still angered by what she noticed because the minimization of drag queens and transgender individuals by the mainstream assimilationist homosexual rights agenda, Rivera and STAR fought for the New York Transgender Rights Bill.
Rivera died in 2002 because of issues associated to liver most cancers. In 2015, Rivera grew to become the primary transgender activist to have her picture seem within the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC., and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project continues her legacy to ensure “all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.”