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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 9, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 28
'Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned!'
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'Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned!'

Happy birthday, Sylvia Rivera!

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

July 2 was the birthday of Queer revolutionary Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002).

A participant in the Stonewall riots in 1969, Rivera became a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. With her friend Marsh P. Johnson, she was a co-founder of STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group organizing homeless young Transgender women.

Born in New York City of mixed Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, she also became involved with the Young Lords - a Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist organization - and the Black Panther Party.

As a Transgender woman with life-long ties to drag culture and street life, Rivera clashed with assimilationist leaders who, she charged, wanted to make the LGBT community look acceptable to middle-class straight people.

In 1971, Rivera campaigned for a New York City-wide anti-discrimination ordinance that included drag queens and Transgender people. She was shocked when other GAA leaders agreed to drop drag and Trans protections from the legislation.

Inclusive anti-discrimination measures did not pass until 1986.

Rivera often charged that Gay white male leaders would ask her to lead potentially dangerous street actions, only to push her aside when the media showed up for interviews.

Rivera also clashed with Lesbian separatists, at one point being escorted out of a Queer women's conference by security.

She was banned from the New York City Gay Center for aggressively demanding that they offer services for homeless Queer youth.

Towards the end of her life, she was still bitter about her treatment at the hands of her one-time allies.

"When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, 'We don't need you no more,'" she said.

But, she added, "Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned."

At some points in her life, Rivera also battled substance abuse problems and lived on the streets. In May 1995, she attempted suicide by walking into the Hudson River.

In spite of her personal issues, Rivera never abandoned radical activism. She traveled to Italy for the Millennium March in 2000 and was hailed as the "Mother of all Gay People."

The same year, she organized STAR street actions to demand that police investigate the murder of Amanda Milan, a young Trans woman.

She died on February 19, 2002, from complications of liver cancer.

On her deathbed, she met with Matt Foreman and Joe Grabarz of Empire State Pride Agenda in an effort to make ESPA Trans-inclusive.

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