Sylvia was the co-founder of S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) along with Marsha P. Johnson, and was the first president of the organization.
Sylvia was born on July 2, 1951, in New York City. Orphaned at the age of 3, she was raised by her grandmother. Sylvia ran away from home at the age of 10 because of non-acceptance of her gender orientation, and over the next 10 years survived as a hustling street queen.
Sylvia has always been an activist at the street level, ready to demonstrate and ready to go to jail to make the point she is trying to represent.
Her most recent incarceration came as a result of the police riot which occurred following the Matthew Shepard “Political Funeral” in New York City. One of her earlier exploits was scaling the walls of New York’s City Hall in a tight skirt and 4-inch heels in order to open the doors to admit the gay and lesbian demonstrators attempting to gain admittance. (They removed her with a fire ladder before she got the doors open).
Sylvia was active in queer politics in the 1970s and was a direct witness of the shameful deletion of transgendered people from the proposed Gay Rights ordinance in New York City by gay and lesbian leaders who were willing to sacrifice trans people in order to get their own rights protected. In spite of “giving up” transgendered people, gays and lesbians still did not get their ordinance passed until 18 years later.
Sylvia Rivera took a hiatus from active political work from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when she worked as a food service technician with the Marriott Corporation in Tarrytown, New York. Nevertheless, during this period she never missed the Christopher Street Liberation Parade (now known as the New York City Heritage of Pride Parade). She also organized periodic drag shows in Tarrytown.
In the early 1990’s Sylvia returned to New York City after losing her job, and went through several years of homelessness, living on the same piers where Marsha P. Johnson was found dead. Sylvia resumed her political activities as an advocate for homeless people, queer people, and the transgender community. In 1997 she came to live at Transy House. She continues to be active on the Stonewall Riot Veterans, the Metropolitan Gender Network. the MCC of New York, the Anti Violence Project, The Fed Up Queers, and many other organizations.
Sylvia Rivera has been featured in many books and articles dealing with Stonewall and queer activism. One of the best sources is “STONEWALL” by Martin Duberman. She has also received many honors and awards in the United States and overseas for her lifetime of political activism for the queer community, including recognition by the Washington DC Transgender Alliance, the AmBoyz, and the New York Puerto Rican Gay and Lesbian Organization.