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4.2: Transgender Activism

  • Page ID
    68338
  • In 1970, Transgender Activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson broke from New York’s Gay Activists Alliance to start the Street Transvestite Action Revolution (STAR). STAR advocated for transgender rights and opened STAR House to provide shelter for transgender youths at risk. In Los Angeles, Angela Douglas founded the Transsexual/Transvestite Action Organization (TAO). TAO opened chapters across the United States and published the national magazine Mirage to advocate for transgender rights. However by the end of the decade, STAR, TAO, and the leading transgender-advocacy organization, Erickson Educational Foundation, had folded. Although small community groups persisted, discrimination against transgender people, both from within and outside the gay and lesbian communities, would keep transgender men and women from broader visibility and civil rights mobilization until the early 1990s.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Angela Douglas and the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front picket a bar in 1969 for its posting of the sign “Fagots Stay Out.”

    By the 1970s, numerous universities and private doctors had formed gender identity clinics to conduct reassignment surgeries. Fearful of abuse by unqualified practitioners, a group of clinicians, therapists, and researchers began forming standards for care at the yearly International Symposiums on Gender Identity. The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA), formed in 1979, gave official sanction to standardized procedures for reassignment treatments.

    The increase in reassignment surgeries led to a surge of requests for changing the listed gender on government-issued identification cards. When the legal rulings on those requests conflicted with one another, it demonstrated the difficulties judges had in interpreting cases regarding gender nonconformity. In 1977, the successful legal challenge by transgender woman Renée Richards to play professional tennis on the women’s circuit, pointed to an improving understanding of gender identity, although it would be some time before municipalities, states, and the judicial system consistently provided some measure of equality.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Sylvia Rivera 1951 - 2002

    TRANSGENDER WOMAN SYLVIA RIVERA WORKED and lived on the streets of New York City and was subject to frequent violence and police brutality. When the police stormed the Stonewall Inn in 1969, Rivera took an active part in the resistance. She became one of the founding members of the New York Gay Liberation Front and an early member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Finding GAA dismissive to the cause of transgender people, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Marsha P. Johnson. However, the organization folded two years later, and by the end of the decade, Rivera was back living on the streets. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project was established after her death to “guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.”

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