---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 03 Mar 2002 17:38:52 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Memorial for Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera
Memorial for Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera
Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2002 10:32:00 -0500
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the March 7, 2002
issue of Workers World newspaper
MEMORIAL FOR STONEWALL COMBATANT:
"LONG LIVE THE SPIRIT OF SYLVIA RIVERA!"
By Elijah Crane
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
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
'SHE BROUGHT TOGETHER DIFFERENT CURRENTS'
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."
HER ACTIVISM INSPIRES
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.
STONEWALL MEANS FIGHT BACK!
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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