Tag Archives: pride

Sylvia & The Stonewall Rebellion

Some say she threw the (Ruby) Slipper That Was Heard Round The World, starting the Stonewall riots and the modern gay movement on the weekend of Judy Garland’s death.

Sylvia Rae Rivera (2 July 1951–19 February 2002) was an American transgender activist. Rivera was a founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and helped found STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group dedicated to helping homeless young street transwomen, with her friend Marsha P. Johnson.

Rivera was born and raised in New York City and would live most of her life in or near this city. She was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. Her birth name was Ray (or Rey) Rivera. She was abandoned by her birth father José Rivera early in life and became an orphan after her mother committed suicide when Rivera was three years old.  Rivera was then raised by her Venezuelan grandmother, who disapproved of Rivera’s effeminate behavior, particularly after Rivera began to wear women’s makeup in fourth grade.[3]  As a result, Rivera began living on the streets at the age of eleven, where she joined a community of drag queens.

Rivera’s activism began during the Vietnam War, civil rights, and feminist movements and fully bloomed around the time of the Stonewall Riots. She often spoke of her presence within the Stonewall Inn the night of the riots.[5] She also became involved in Puerto Rican and African American youth activism, particularly with the Young Lords and Black Panthers.

Activist Riki Wilchins notes in Wikipedia, “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall”.

At different times in her life, Sylvia Rivera battled substance abuse issues and lived on the streets. Her experiences made her more focused on advocacy for those who, in her view, the mainline community (and often the queer community) were leaving behind.

Wikipedia reports “Rivera refused to have the drag culture erased from the gay rights agenda by what she considered to be assimilationist gay leaders who were, in her mind, seeking to make the community look more attractive to the heterosexual majority. Rivera’s conflicts with mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups were emblematic of the mainstream gay  rights movement’s strained relationship to transgender  and transvestite issues. After her death, Michael Bronski recalled her anger when she felt that she was being marginalized within the community:

After Gay Liberation Front folded and the more reformist Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) became New York’s primary gay rights group, Sylvia Rivera worked hard within their ranks in 1971 to promote a citywide gay rights, anti-discrimination ordinance. But for all of her work, when it came time to make deals, GAA dropped the portions in the civil rights bill that dealt with transvestitism and drag—it just wasn’t possible to pass it with such “extreme” elements included. As it turned out, it wasn’t possible to pass the bill anyway until 1986. But not only was the language of the bill changed, GAA—which was becoming increasingly more conservative, several of its founders and officers had plans to run for public office—even changed its political agenda to exclude issues of transvestitism and drag. It was also not unusual for Sylvia to be urged to “front” possibly dangerous demonstrations, but when the press showed up, she would be pushed aside by the more middle-class, “straight-appearing” leadership. In 1995, Rivera was still hurt: “When things started getting more mainstream, it was like, ‘We don’t need you no more’”. But, she added, “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned”.

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Toronto Pride History

Another summer, another Pride Day.

We all know that Toronto Pride is one of the biggest LGBT celebrations in North America. And within the last few years, organizers have struggled with how to make the festival still relevant at a time when – thankfully – the queer community has won numerous battles in seeking equal rights. Many question: do we still need a Pride Day at a time when we now have more out gays and lesbians in the corporate world, in politics and entertainment? In Toronto, the “gay village” has changed so much in recent years that anyone from out of town wouldn’t even notice anything different about the neighbourhood that was once an important meeting place for queer folk… a place where they felt safe and welcome among others like them.

There's more to Gay Pride that what you see in the paradesWoot woot! There’s more to Gay Pride than what you see in the parades.

I recently met up with Phil Wong, executive director of Community One Foundation – a non-profit organization that fundraises for numerous queer groups who have limited access to mainstream funding. Over the years, the foundation has doled out more than a million bucks since 1980 to support the arts, social services and other community projects.

Wong said that even though many people know about the AIDS/HIV groups and organizations backing equal marriage rights who have actively fought for funds and political attention, there are still issues out there that many even in the gay community don’t know about.

A look at some of the recipients of the foundation’s funding this year tells the tale:

Durham Pride Prom 2009 – The Youth Centre – to support the creation of an end of year celebration and graduation party for LGBTTIQ2 youth in Durham Region and HOPE Outreach – Halton Organization for Pride and Education (HOPE) – to support the creation of outreach materials to help target new and increasing demographic spaces i.e. business cards, display boards, note cards, t-shirts mugs, pens and key chains to give away as prizes at HOPE events and for general outreach. HOPE will also create a brochure with basic LGBTTTIQQ education information and contacts.

Q-SAY – Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) to help ASAAP conduct anti-homophobia workshops and outreach in the South Asian community through the use of its film documentary which explores issues surrounding the South Asian LGBTQ youth community and Mpenzi Black Women’s International Film & Video Festival – to support the annual Mpenzi Black Women’s International Film & Video Festival screens films and video submissions from straight and Queer Black women, transgender, transsexual and intersex women and men.

Bateman QSA Outreach & Education – Robert Bateman High School Queer-Straight Alliance – to create a safe space and to initiate outreach to the Queer-trans community at Robert Bateman High School. The QSA will also identify and purchase appropriate books, videos and materials for the school library as a way of increasing knowledge and dialogue for both students and teachers.

Bring LGBT issues to palliative & bereavement services in Durham Region – Durham Hospice – to provide more learning resources and training for staff and volunteers and other agencies working in this field (i.e. cancer supports, senior’s centres, Long-Term-Care homes etc.) on the unique experiences of LGBT people and death/loss.

This is just a sampling of the need out there – issues affecting women, visible minorities, transgender and transsexual individuals, youth, and older gays and lesbians are still out there, particularly in smaller, rural communities where there are fewer services.

“Pride Week gives people a chance to gather,” says Wong. “Groups that are often invisible in our community can access Pride in a number of ways to build awareness around their concerns or interests. Marching in one of the parades, staffing a community information booth, or holding an activist meeting or dance party; Pride is a great time to bring people together.”

“Pride Toronto and the Community One Foundation partner every year to provide the Pride Access & Diversity Grants program to ensure smaller groups can participate in all the fun and mayhem.”

Because we can’t forget that Gay Pride is not just about a 20-something, buff, hip and out gay man who is as free to bring home his boyfriend to mom as anyone else now. The struggle for equality and understanding continues for many people who don’t fit neatly into that box. And as long as that struggle continues, we still need Gay Pride.

For more information about Community One Foundation, visit communityone.ca.

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