[sixties-l] Memorial for Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera (fwd)

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Date: Mon Mar 04 2002 - 19:01:58 EST

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    Date: Sun, 03 Mar 2002 17:38:52 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Memorial for Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera

    Memorial for Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera
    Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2002 10:32:00 -0500
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    Via Workers World News Service
    Reprinted from the March 7, 2002
    issue of Workers World newspaper


    By Elijah Crane
    New York

    A memorial for revolutionary transgender activist Sylvia
    Rivera convened at the Metropolitan Community Church on Feb.
    26. Rivera died here on Feb. 19, after battling liver
    cancer. She was 50 years old.

    Rivera was one of the original combatants in the Stonewall
    Rebellion--the famous 1969 New York City uprising credited
    with birthing the modern lesbian, gay, bi and trans
    liberation movement. She co-founded Street Transvestite
    Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970 with Stonewall warrior
    Marsha "Pay it no mind" Johnson.

    The rebellion was just the beginning of a lifetime of
    revolutionary activism for Rivera. But her struggle against
    racism and trans oppression had begun much earlier as a
    homeless Puerto Rican 10-year-old battling for survival on
    the streets of New York City.

    This "Celebration of the Life of Sylvia Rivera" brought
    together a multinational and multi-generational crowd of
    hundreds from transgender, lesbian, gay and bi communities.
    Her partner Julia Murray and other family members from
    Transy House, where the couple resided, filled the front

    In recent years Rivera had become a member of the MCC
    congregation and worked in the food pantry. As Rivera had
    requested before her death, the kitchen remained open to the
    community while the services were going on.

    Moshe Moses opened the evening with a solo rendition of one
    of Sylvia Rivera's favorite gospel songs. A spirited choir
    set the celebratory tone and raised the roof with their
    impassioned performance.

    The whole room joined the choir for a rendition of "Lift
    Every Voice and Sing," historically viewed as the African
    American national anthem.

    Ten speakers commemorated Rivera's life of struggle and
    revolutionary leadership, sharing personal stories of their

    The Rev. Pat Bumgardner said, "Justice for Sylvia was every
    hungry person being fed and every sick person being cared

    Bumgardner added that Rivera continued to hold political
    meetings from her hospital bed to the last hours of her
    life. One of the primary topics of those meetings was the
    struggle for trans inclusion in the proposed state Sexual
    Orientation Non Discrimination Act. Rivera pursued the goal
    of trans inclusion in every lesbian/ gay/bi organization and

    Rev. Bumgardner concluded, "Let us always remember what a
    true revolutionary she was."

    During the Stonewall Rebellion, Rivera made the acquaintance
    of Bob Kohler, who later became a best friend and father
    figure. Kohler shared with the crowd several moving stories
    about their relationship.

    Kohler recollected one of his early political experiences
    with Rivera. He prefaced the story by sharing how "Whenever
    Sylvia was at a loss for words at a demonstration, she would
    start the Gay Power chant."

    Kohler described an occupation of Weinstein Hall at New York
    University in response to its refusal to rent space to a gay
    organization for a planned event. After occupying the hall
    for a week, about a dozen cops wielding rifles entered,
    trained their rifles on the activists, and announced that
    they had 10 seconds to leave the room.

    As a cop began the countdown, Kohler heard the click of the
    rifles pointed at them. He said to Rivera, "I think we
    should leave!" The next thing he heard was "Gimme a G! Gimme
    an A! ..." as Rivera began the famous shout-and-response.

    This was one of many heart-warming testimonies of Rivera's
    revolutionary perseverance. Kohler and others referenced the
    close relationship between Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P.
    Johnson, another Stonewall warrior, who was found dead in
    the Hudson River in 1992.

    After moving remarks about Sylvia Rivera's legacy, Kohler
    concluded by quoting a poem by William Wordsworth:

    Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind


    Lesbian transgender activist and author Leslie Feinberg
    spoke of the effects of the loss of these revolutionary
    transgender freedom fighters. "The human toll of oppression
    and the AIDS epidemic have created a gaping chasm; virtually
    generations lost. As a result, our history is episodically
    recalled. The act of collectively recovering memory is
    itself an act of struggle. Look at the gift Sylvia has given
    us tonight: She brought together the generational currents
    of the white-capped river of our movement."

    Feinberg explained that "In the breach of historic memory,
    some may think that Sylvia and Marsha Johnson started the
    struggle for our liberation at Stonewall." But, "resistance
    is as old as oppression.

    "Sylvia lived to see quantitative resistance transformed
    into qualitative, collective fight-back. What Stonewall
    ushered in was the birth of a mass struggle from coast to
    coast and around the world. It was the second great
    international wave of gay and trans liberation in the 20th
    century. And Sylvia and STAR were woven with a thousand
    threads to the historic liberation movements of African
    Americans, Latinos, Native peoples, women and the upsurge
    against the Vietnam War."

    Feinberg concluded, "As we gather together at the Stonewall
    later tonight, let us recall that we stand at the site of an
    uprising in the spirit of Nat Turner and Sojourner Truth,
    John Brown and Harriet Tubman. As we march shoulder-to-
    shoulder, let us recall that the course of our movement is
    not fixed in its banks like the Hudson River--it is ours to

    "From Selma to Stonewall to Seattle to the anti-WEF
    protests, the struggle will not rest till freedom's won for

    Michaelangelo Galloza offered an intimate account of his
    friendship with Sylvia Rivera and the many parallels in
    their lives as transgender Puerto Rican people. He spoke of
    their shared struggle to survive "the lie that it was our
    fate to die drunk or in a jail cell."

    Galloza explained that he and Rivera had been "lifted up by
    the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party." He said the
    oppressors "still haven't realized that all the oppression
    fuels the flames of desire."

    Galloza described the common ties that he and Sylvia Rivera
    shared with their revolutionary heroes, including Pedro
    Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebron and Marsha P. Johnson.

    What they shared, he said, is that "we are survivors of a
    war against us, a war we were born into."

    With a call to continue the struggle for liberation, Galloza
    concluded, "We have to work on what separates us from our
    own spirits by the tools of the oppressors. ... By following
    the truth, we will win."


    Joo-Hyun Kang, executive director of the Audre Lorde
    Project, echoed the sentiments of every speaker in stating
    "We should all be inspired by her activism."

    Kang described a 1970 armed takeover of a church in east
    Harlem by the Young Lords and the support that Rivera's
    organization, STAR, provided.

    Rivera's "quest for justice," Kang pointed out, "was always
    about all people, not limited to LGBTs. Single issue
    politics was never in Sylvia's vocabulary." The thunderous
    applause of recognition by the crowd confirmed that this is
    a well-known truth about Rivera.

    Long-time friend and housemate Dr. Rusty Moore said, "Sylvia
    is a person of many facets. I want to focus on her political
    activism and her struggle for trans inclusion in SONDA."

    One of the anecdotes she shared was of a conversation she
    and others at Transy House had with Rivera not long before
    her death in which Rivera stressed, "We need a transgender
    shelter in this city and that's what I'm going to do!"

    Moore ended by saying, "SONDA and a trans shelter, that what
    Sylvia wants us to talk about. We're all afraid we're not
    strong enough without her."

    But, as everyone attested to, the movement can take
    inspiration from the life of Sylvia Rivera and her
    unrelenting war against oppression and use it to fuel the

    Other speakers included Bebe Scarpinato, Erykah Rumdas and
    Randy Wicker. Historian Martin Duberman announced that the
    CUNY Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies has introduced a
    "Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies" as an annual
    prize for the best articles or books on transgender lives.


    After the memorial at MCC, a crowd of more than 300 gathered
    in front of the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village
    where some of Rivera's ashes were spread.

    In addition to those who attended the service, many more
    from the lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities joined in.

    A horse-drawn hearse carriage carrying Julia Murray led a
    procession to the waterfront at the Christopher Street Piers
    where more of Rivera's ashes were to be spread.

    Before making their way from the Stone wall Inn, several
    rounds of the "Gay Power" chant were shouted.

    The spirited marchers called for "Trans rights now!" and
    "Trans revolution!" as they made their way through Greenwich
    Village. Passersby cheered.

    Once at the pier, candles were lit, songs were sung and some
    of Rivera's ashes were scattered into the river. A bouquet
    of flowers was launched into the water while a jazz band
    played. A small dance troupe offered up a performance while
    a musician plaintively played what has become the anthem of
    this oppressed group: "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

    A final round of "Give me a G! Give me an A! ..." spelled
    out the Gay Power chant. And for the first time that many
    long-time activists in the group could recall, the crowd
    added one more verse, "Give me a T! Give me an R! ..." as
    they called for Trans Power.

    People lingered, as youth and elders exchanged stories about
    their experiences with Rivera. "There is so much to say
    about her contribution to the struggle, her years of
    fighting for the liberation of all peoples," trans activist
    Imani Henry told this reporter.

    "To me she was the example of a revolutionary," he
    continued. "She showed up at every demo, without even being
    asked, without a lot of fanfare--to do mailings at the
    International Action Center, on buses from Brooklyn to anti-
    war demonstrations like those against the bombing of
    Yugoslavia and protests against police repression and for

    "She was an inspiration to me and to so many others. Simply
    put, regardless of what was happening in her personal life,
    she made time and took the energy to show up for every

    Additional memorials are being planned around the city to
    honor the legacy of Sylvia Rivera.

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