International Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual holiday occurring on March 31 dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide. The holiday was founded by Michigan-based transgender activist Rachel Crandall in 2009 as a reaction to the lack of LGBT holidays celebrating transgender people, citing the frustration that the only well-known transgender-centered holiday was the Transgender Day of Remembrance which mourned the loss of transgender people to hate crimes, but did not acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community.
From Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (see below) to modern-day activists and “possibility models,” like Angel Collie, Rev. Norma Gann, Rev. Miller Hoffman, Rev. Jake Kopmeier, Zach McCallum, Rev. Aaron Miller, Rev. Maxwell Reay, Stacy Sanberg, Steve Sills, Rev. Mykal Slack, and Julie Walsh, our proud trans* siblings that serve as members of MCC Trans* Gender Non-Conforming Advisory Council, we pay tribute to all those who have boldly shared their stories, spoken out against discrimination, and smoothed the path toward equality and acceptance for all those who follow in their footsteps like, Rev. Brendan Boone, Rev. Emma Chatton, Dr. Colt Meyer, Monica Roberts and many others.
Remembering Sylvia Rivera
Sylvia Rivera, the Bronx-born Puerto Rican LGBTQ icon, is rumored to have started the infamous 1969 Stonewall Riots, yet she remains generally unknown. A tireless advocate for LGBTQ rights until her death in 2002, Rivera worked to ensure that change was constantly on the horizon for her community. Since 1960, New York City has been home to a thriving LGBTQ community and gay scene, despite harassment, arrests and assault.
Historians of the period believe that earlier foreign migration in the city injected new life into the already established gay scene, making it renowned. Greenwich Village, Times Square and the streets in neighboring areas became home to gay, working class and homeless youth. Among them was Rivera, a self-identified “queen,” who was raised by her Venezuelan grandmother until Rivera left home at age 11. Transforming from Ray Rivera to Sylvia Rivera, she began dressing in drag and prostituting herself on 42nd street.
“It was a hard era. There was always gay bashing on the drag queens. We had to live with it, but none of us was very happy about it,” Rivera said during a recorded interview.
Rivera and other “street queens” were constantly in danger of being arrested, mainly because of the fact that cross-dressing was illegal at the time. Raids of gay bars were common, and by the time she was 17-years-old, Rivera had already made countless trips to Riker’s Island. The arrests and harassment bred frustration, and Rivera craved a revolution.
On June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, an establishment that’s widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, that revolution came. When officers attempted to storm the Stonewall Inn, they quickly lost control, and the self-aware gay and transgender community reacted with riots and protest. Rivera was rumored to have thrown one of the first Molotov cocktails that evening, while others claim that she wasn’t at the Stonewall Inn at all.
The radical moment in history has been debated time and time again by historians, but one thing that’s evident is the whitening and “suburbanizing” of the Stonewall Inn Riots, leading to Rivera being dropped from historical texts related to Stonewall. However, what makes her involvement so profoundly important is that she represents working class, queer Latino and black street youth, who happened to be responsible for the more militant actions that took place that evening.
The homeless people living in Sheridan Square were non-white. They were predominately Puerto Rican/Latina and they were prominent and active. Their inclusion in the night’s riots helped make it what it was, and that contingent would go on to produce more fruitful actions.
The following year, Rivera and other activists organized the first Christopher Street Liberation march to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion. That tradition became what’s presently known as the Gay Pride Parade. Rivera went on to do profound work in the transgender community, founding the Street Transvestite/Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and organizing with the Black Panthers and the Young Lords to drive change in the queer community as well as other disenfranchised communities.