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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SBU chapter.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month starting last week (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15), I would like to dedicate this post to talking about the life of Slyvia Rivera, the American gay liberation and transgender rights advocate and community worker.

Rivera was born in 1951 in New York City. Her mother was from Venezuela and her father was from Puerto Rico. She was assigned male at birth. 

Much of her childhood was ridiculed by her experimentation with clothing and makeup, which she would get teased and even sometimes beaten up for. Later, Rivera identified as a drag queen for most of her life and then later as a transgender person. 

Growing up, she was attacked on the school playground at age six for her outfits, and then suspended, she ran away from home. 

She was eleven and sadly, became a victim of sexual exploitation. 

Later in her life, she met another influential figure in the fight for civil rights and justice, Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson was an African-American self-identified drag queen and activist. The two became very close friends and Johsnon was much of an inspiration to Rivera. 

Rivera said that Johnson changed her life. 

They both were involved in the Stonewall Inn uprising on June 28, 1969.

The Stonewall Inn, which was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, lower Manhattan, refused a police raid which was a regular, premeditated activity. This resistance revolutionized the attitude of gay rights in the nation, the first pride parades started in 1970. 

Rivera said in a later interview in 2001 that while she did not throw the first Molotov cocktail at the police she did throw the second. 

Throughout the uprising, Rivera, then 17, said, “I’m not missing a minute of this—it’s the revolution!”

Even before the activism of the gay rights movement, Rivera was also involved in the Black Liberation Movement and the peace movement.

Though Rivera was quite the advocate for the gay rights movement, those who identified as transgender were discouraged from joining in the celebration of being who they are. 

She frequently had run-ins with other gay rights leaders and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which formed partly because of Stonewall. Many excluded her. 

Rivera spent much of her life fighting against the exclusion of transgender people from groups like the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act and the general public which still viewed her and others’ gender specifications as wrong or foreign. 

In reaction, Rivera, with the help of others, started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1971, which became a place to organize how to move the transgender community in New York City forward in a safe and equitable way. 

The organization provided homes, food, clothes, and more who needed it, not only those who identified as transgender. 

Though she was a visionary, much of her life was haunted by her childhood experiences. Rivera was homeless for much of her life, attempted suicide, and had addiction issues. 

The death of her close friend, Johnson, put much into perspective for her and she refocused on what really mattered, her efforts to protect, speak up for, and be a model for those at the time and in the future of transgender rights. 

In 2002, Rivera died of liver cancer at age 50. 

Many organizations and esteemed groups recognize Rivera for the influential activist that she was, like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. 

It is saddening to think that such a founding idol of LGBTQ+ rights is not here to see the progress that has been made to obtain civil rights for more people than ever. 

But her motivation lives on as an inspiration that though we have come far in the name of transgender and gay rights, there is still room to keep moving forward. 

Just like her law project says, her legacy continues working to guarantee, that “All people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence.” 

Thank you, Sylvia Rivera, and happy National Hispanic Heritage Month. 


Howdy babes, my name is Hadley Thompson and I am super happy to be here. I am from Niagara Falls, NY, and am ready to move where the Buffalo winters aren't so strong, brrrrr. I am a senior political science and journalism double major at St. Bonaventure University. I still remember my first semester writing for HC, I was the only new inductee at our annual interest meeting! It is so awesome to have witnessed this group of insightful and wonderful minds grow throughout the years. As I finish up my time here at Bonas, I hope to combine all of my hobbies and interests as I step into this next chapter of my life. Because I love things like reading, studying politics, environmental studies, chatting it up, writing, and such, I am applying to law school, eek! I will have to keep you updated. I am super excited for this semester amidst all of the changes, senior feelings, and, of course, to be a part of HC @ SBU! :)