Portrait of Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) posing in front of her altar to Marsha P. Johnson (1944-1992), by Valerie Shaff, ca. 2000
In the early 1970’s Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson co-founded S.T.A.R., Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an organization designed to achieve rights for her community, and provide social services to this largely ignored and stigmatized group. For a short while she and Marsha P. Johnson ran S.T.A.R. House which provided shelter for homeless young street queens. Lack of funds and problems with the certificate of occupancy for S.T.A.R. House, forced the abandonment of the venture at that time, but Rivera never lost the dream of creating a supportive and safe living space for young transgender people.
Rivera was greatly disillusioned with the desire of many early gay and lesbian activists to distance the gay movement from transvestites, drag queens, and other gender variant people, in spite of the fact that these people were often the “shock troops” for the entire gay community.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project notes,
A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Sylvia was a tireless advocate for all those who have been marginalized as the “gay rights” movement has mainstreamed. Sylvia fought hard against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and was a loud and persistent voice for the rights of people of color and low-income queers and trans people.