• Millie Kirkland

Honoring Latinx LGBTQ+ Activists: Sylvia Rivera



Hello Olas Family! To continue our celebration of Olas Pride Week, we are excited to feature Latina-American drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist Sylvia Rivera. Remembered as one of the most radical gay and transgender advocates in the 1960s and 70s, she was a changemaker for the Lantix LGBTQ+ community. Hailing from Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, her family rejected her behavior–– forcing her to run away at age 11. Despite a traumatic childhood, Sylvia remained resilient, courageous, and committed to her true self.


As we celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, Sylvia Rivera’s many contributions to furthering equality for the gay and trans community remain as important as ever. In 1969, she allegedly threw the second molotov cocktail in protest to a police raid of the gay bar the Stonewell Inn in Manhattan–– one of the major sparks of the gay liberation movement. While the Stonewall Riots did not start the gay rights movement, it was a powerful catalyst that began the gay liberation movement. Though America has come a long way in the past 50 years, we still have much to accomplish.


Why Silvia inspires us here at Olas:

  • She acted on what she believed in: Sylvia was a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front and an active member of the Gay Activists Alliance. Working at the forefront of securing gay rights in New York, she fought tirelessly to ensure the voices of the transgender population were not silenced.

  • She was a leader who sought to better the lives of others. In 1970, she co-founded START (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group that helped support and empower gay, trans, and gender-fluid youth, with Marsha P. Johnson. As a poor, trans, POC –– and someone who experienced drug addiction, incarceration and homelessness –– she understood the challenges of intersectionality. She was a fearless leader who advocated for racial, economic and criminal justice issues.

  • She embodied our values of confidence and compassion: Sylvia used her voice to uplift others. Standing up for what you believe in and empowering others to do the same means putting yourself out there. At Olas, we are always trying to push ourselves outside beyond our comfort zone. She reminds us that the most rewarding work is rarely comfortable.


Sylvia’s legacy lives on through The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), a legal aid organization that “works to guarantee all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income and race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.” SRLP provides gay, trans, and gender-fluid individuals access to legal services and teaches leadership and advocacy skills.


Here at Olas, it is a future we all are working to create–– one that Sylvia would be proud of.

In Olas conversations, students and moms share their visions for a more inclusive future in both America and Guatemala. Here at Olas, it is a future we all are working to create–– one that Sylvia would be proud of.


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©2020 by Project Olas

Design by Kerry O'Donnell

Photography by Anna Hwatz