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Mar 12, 2019

Celebrating Sylvia Rivera

Happy Women’s History Month! All month long, Equality NC is celebrating the lives of women who laid the foundation for our organization’s work over the last forty years -- and the next forty years to come. Today we uplift Sylvia Rivera, a latinx civil rights pioneer, drag queen and trans woman who fought tirelessly for the rights of vulnerable queer people throughout her lifetime.

A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and the early gay liberation era, Rivera was a voice for members of the LGBTQ community living on the margins. She was oftentimes critical of the mainstream gay rights movement’s deprioritization of more polarizing issues in favor of assimilationist gay and lesbian cultural acceptance. Her famous 1973 “Y’all better quiet down” speech called out the apathy of the LGBTQ community when it came to the injustice and violence that vulnerable LGBTQ people -- particularly incarcerated queer people -- face in their day-to-day lives. Known for her outspoken demeanor, Rivera often used her platform to call out how systematic poverty and racism affected the lives of queer people and the ways in which these issues weren’t addressed by the larger LGBTQ community.

Rivera co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the early 1970s alongside close friend Marsha P. Johnson, a radical political collective and organization that provided housing, community and support for sex workers and LGBTQ youth. Today, an organization called The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is named after the late activist. SRLP “works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.”

“Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.” --Sylvia Rivera

Historical icons like Sylvia Rivera push us to question the actions and intentions of those in power -- even within the ranks of our own movements. This is an important form of accountability for social justice movements, and something that we take to heart through the work of Equality NC. Our organization is proud to honor her legacy today, and within the work that we do every day.

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