Sylvia Rivera, Transgender Pioneer, Honored at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

 Sylvia Rivera (with Christina Hayworth and Julia Murray) by Luis Carle, gelatin silver print, 2000. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquisition made possible through the support of the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Sylvia Rivera (with Christina Hayworth and Julia Murray) by Luis Carle, gelatin silver print, 2000. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquisition made possible through the support of the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery installed the portrait of Sylvia Rivera in the “Struggle for Justice” exhibition. Rivera is the first transgendered person in the museum’s collection. A forerunner in the fight against gender identity discrimination, Ray Rivera rechristened himself as Sylvia as a teenager. When cast out by her family, she worked the dicey Times Square district as a transvestite prostitute. She was there in 1969 at the turning point of the modern LGBT struggle for equal rights, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn violently rebuffed a police raid. Politicized by this experience, Rivera campaigned with the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) in urging the city to enact a nondiscrimination ordinance. However, facing racism and discrimination as a Latina transgender by the mainly white male GAA leadership, she began to work with homeless teenagers, co-founding the group and shelter STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). In the 1990s Rivera was embraced as one of the fundamental figures of the LGBT movement.

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