May 30, 2019

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to be featured in NYC monument

The Stonewall Inn nightclub raid. Johnson and Rivera are credited with participating in the Stonewall riots. Photo: NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women credited with pioneering modern LGBTQ activism, will be featured in a new monument near Stonewall Inn, a historic gay nightclub in Greenwich Village, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: New York City says this monument will be one of the world's first honoring transgender people. Johnson and Rivera are also widely known as key figures in the June 1969 Stonewall riots, which sparked national awareness of discrimination against LGBTQ people — and also led to the nation's first pride parade.

What they did: In addition to their other work, Johnson and Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to advocate for and house transgender youth. STAR became the Gay Liberation Front, which advocated for gay rights as a whole and worked to incorporate the movement into other social issues.

  • Johnson worked with homeless youth who were disowned by their families for being gay or gender non-conforming. She also advocated for patients with AIDS and participated in protests with the advocacy organization ACT UP. She was found dead in 1992 in the Hudson River, under unclear circumstances.
  • Rivera pushed for transgender recognition in the LGBTQ rights movement. When the Gay Activists Alliance no longer included "transvestites" — the now outdated term for transgender individuals — from its civil rights agenda, she made her outrage clear. She was given "a place of honor" in the 25th anniversary Stonewall march in 1994 and died from liver cancer in 2002.

The big picture: “The LGBTQ movement was portrayed very much as a white, gay male movement,” New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, told the Times. “This monument counters that trend of whitewashing the history.” Johnson, a black woman, and Rivera, a Latina woman, both faced homelessness, poverty, and drug addictions throughout their lives.

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