Sylvia Rivera Fought to Make Pride Inclusive of the Trans Community

Various images of Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera is a name you may have heard before, especially around Pride Month. Rivera is best known for her participation in the Stonewall Uprising, but the legacy she left behind for the transgender community in terms of her advocacy is a true testament to the fantastic nature of her work.

Rivera was born in 1951 with her gender assigned male at birth with the name Ray given to her by her Puerto Rican father and Venezuelan mother. Rivera was born in the Bronx to a tough childhood - one so hard that the young Rivera ended up being raised by her grandmother after her father walked out and her mother committed suicide when she was only three years old. Rivera always held an active interest in women’s clothing and makeup and often did not shy away from opportunities to express herself. This made Rivera a target for bullies, which ultimately led to her running away from home at just 11 years old.

Rivera was then exploited sexually to make ends meet for herself, working as an underage sex worker in Times Square. Just one year after being out on the streets, Rivera met another prominent activist and self-proclaimed transvestite and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, where her point of view broadened. During this time, Rivera became immersed in the plight of Black liberation, poverty, homelessness, and the rights of the transgender community.

In a time when the mainstream LGBTQ+ community was fighting for their rights, the trans members of that community were not welcomed by organizers. Many gay rights organizers, such as those from The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilities (two of the original gay and lesbian rights groups), discouraged members from “engaging in deviant expressions of gender and sexuality” and had strict dress codes for their rallies in the 1960s.

Johnson and Rivera then formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1971. This organization was dedicated to furthering the quality of life of the transgender community, providing housing for those in dire need. Johnson and Rivera worked tirelessly as sex workers at night to pay the rent and provide housing as well as security to transgender street youth and transgender homeless people that they felt were being actively excluded by gay rights groups. Though it was short-lived, they did a lot in those short years until the mid-1970s when STAR House closed.

Photo via NSWP

Her community not only as a woman of color but also as a trans woman of color. 17-year-old Rivera was an avid participant in the Stonewall Uprising, going on record to set the story straight of her role in the protest. Though she didn’t throw the initial Molotov cocktail, she “threw the second one.” In the six days of protests, Rivera never went home, staying behind and advocating for trans rights amidst the chaos.

Though others largely silenced Rivera in her community, she was invited to participate in the 1973 Gay Pride Rally in New York City. The ever-brave Rivera (though not allowed to speak by organizers) grabbed the mic and proclaimed, “I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment for gay liberation, and y’all treat me this way?” Despite being viciously booed off stage at the time, an experience that led her to attempt suicide and subsequent break from the city and activism until Johnson’s death in 1992, Rivera’s speech remains a powerful testament to the contributions and sacrifices she made to the gay rights movement.

Discurso de Sylvia Rivera - Marcha del Orgullo 1973 (Español)

Rivera passed away in 2002, but in dedicating almost her entire life to the gay rights movement has always served as a monumental figure that worked to change the tide to put the “T” in the LGBTQ+ movement it is known to be today. Without Sylvia Rivera, a lot of the transgender community would not have the progress they have today, making her an immortal icon to all.

This meant that in a world already so unwelcome, Rivera fought to make space for herself and her community not only as a woman of color but also as a trans woman of color.

Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.

graphic design highlighting Dolores Huerta 94 birthday, the iconic civil rights activist and labor leader.

Today, Dolores Huerta, one of the most important Latino icons within civil rights, is turning 94 years old. This occasion is the perfect opportunity to celebrate not only her robust life but also her immense contributions as a social justice champion. Huerta is a living legend whose tireless efforts have helped transform the landscape of civil rights, feminism, labor rights, farmworkers’ rights, and even environmental justice.

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