Portrait of trans Sylvia Rivera to hang in the Smithsonian
She put the “T” for transgender in the LGBT name and was a powerful voice for the trans people. Now Sylvia Rivera is the first trans person to have a portrait in the Smithsonian.
The immortal Sylvia Rivera
Rivera’s picture will be included in the the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The picture itself was taken by Puerto Rican photographer Luis Carle in the year 2000, and done in gelatin silver print.
“At the National Portrait Gallery, we look to include portraits of people who have made a significant impact on American culture,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said to MSNBC.
“In the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, Sylvia Rivera expanded the gay liberation movement and fought for equal rights for people who embraced different gender identities,” Sajet said.
The picture shows Rivera posing together with fellow activist Christina Hayworth and partner Julia Murray at the Saturday Rally before New York’s Gay Pride in 2000. It was installed at the National Portrait Gallery’s “Struggle for Justice” exhibition last October.
“It is extremely fitting that Sylvia Rivera be the first trans activist to appear in the National Portrait Gallery since Sylvia was one of the first out trans activist to stand up for– and raise her voice for– trans people in New York City and the US,” Eric Sawyer, co-founding member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), said.
The picture’s acquisition was made possible through the support of the Latino Initiatives Pool, which is administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
The fighting Sylvia Rivera
Considered as one of fiercest activist in the fight against gender discrimination, Rivera was a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall riots. Together with other members of the LGBT community, she was at the forefront of the uprising against the police force that had constantly persecuted them.
Like other trans and the rest of the LGBT community, Rivera was a product of the streets and its perennial dangers. So when “the turning point” rolled around, she recognized Stonewall for what it was, and threw one of the first bottle at the police then.
“We were led out of the bar and they cattled us all up against the police vans. The cops pushed us up against the grates and the fences. People started throwing pennies, nickels, and quarters at the cops. And then the bottles started,” Rivera said.
“And then we finally had the morals squad barricaded in the Stonewall building, because they were actually afraid of us at that time. They didn’t know we were going to react that way. We were not taking any more of this shit. We had done so much for other movements. It was time,” Rivera said.
Rivera was also a member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and helped try to get a gay rights bill passed in New York City. Unfortunately, she also lived during the time when the GAA removed drag and transvestite concerns from its civil rights agenda.
She later on founded the radical group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Marsha P. Johnson. This group helped give a voice to trans people, from marching in rallies to setting up shelters.
Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC), wrote in The Village Voice that Rivera was “the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement.”
Sylvia Rivera died in 2002.