Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Sylvia Rivera

Born in New York City of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Ray Rivera – as Sylvia was named by her parents – was raised by a grandmother who disapproved strongly of the child’s gender-nonconforming behavior. Taking the name Sylvia, Rivera left home as a pre-teen, and supported herself as a street hustler in Manhattan. Present at the Stonewall Inn, when police raided the bar on June 28, 1969, she rallied people to fight back, shouting “It’s the revolution!” Rivera quickly became an activist in the new gay liberation movement, participating in both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. But the hostility of GAA to “drag queens” and “transvestites,” as trans women were described in those years, led her to break away and form Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with a close friend and activist, Marsha P. Johnson. The marginalization of gender-nonconforming people by the movement and the society took its toll, and Rivera struggled with homelessness, drug use, and alcoholism. The last years of her life were spent at Transy House, a shelter in Brooklyn. Rivera is featured in the documentary film on Stonewall, “Out Rage ’69,” by Arthur Dong, and after her death from liver cancer in 2002, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was founded and named to honor her memory.