Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries
|Purpose||To provide shelter and food to homeless queer youth|
213 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10003
|Affiliations||Gay Liberation Front|
Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was a gay, gender non-conforming and transgender street activist organization founded in 1970 by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, subculturally-famous New York City drag queens of color. STAR was a radical political collective that also provided housing and support to homeless queer youth and sex workers in Lower Manhattan. STAR developed intersectional politics and supported some of the most vulnerable members of the community. Rivera and Johnson were the "mothers" of the household, and funded the organization largely through sex work. STAR is considered by many to be a groundbreaking organization in the queer liberation movement and a model for other organizations.
On August 28, 1970, a sit-in protest at Weinstein Hall of New York University after the administration cancelled planned dances there. Reportedly, The Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, who were organizers of the first Gay Pride Parade, held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, coordinated a series of four dances, to be held at Weinstein Hall as fundraisers for legal, medical and housing services for the gay community. The "Dance-a-Fairs" were booked with the Weinstein Hall Student Governing Association and it was later speculated that administration canceled the later dances because a gay organization was sponsoring the events. The sit-in was held by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), Radicalesbians and other activists.
Both Rivera and Johnson were often homeless themselves. When they were able to rent a hotel room or an apartment, they would sneak homeless friends into their rooms - sometimes up to 50 at a time. After the sit ins, Rivera had the idea of forming an organization to provide more permanent housing for homeless people in their community:
STAR was for the street gay people, the street homeless people and anybody that needed help at that time. Marsha and I had always sneaked people into our hotel rooms. Marsha and I decided to get a building. We were trying to get away from the Mafia's control at the bars.— Sylvia Rivera, 1998 Interview with Leslie Feinberg at Workers World
Begun as a caucus of the Gay Liberation Front, STAR was created to advocate on behalf of homeless LGBT youth and runaways. As a means of helping the LGBT youth, they developed STAR House. Rivera and Johnson used to hustle the streets in order to keep everyone fed and sheltered, and to keep "their kids" (the runaways they took in) from having to do the same.
Initially Rivera wanted Johnson to be the president of STAR, but Johnson declined, saying the offer was flattering, but that someone who thought in a more linear manner, and who was better at long-term planning, would be better for the job.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson founded the STAR House in November 1970. Their first version of the STAR House was a trailer that was located on a parking lot in Greenwich village. However, Rivera and Joshnon found the trailer being removed from the parking lot where it was in and decided to get something more permanent space. That space was a 4-bedroom apartment in a run-down building with no electricity at the time and they had to learn how to fix the electricity, plumbing and the boiler. The STAR House was located at 213 East 2nd Street, in the East Village in New York. The STAR House was a safe haven for the homeless transgender community. The House served as a safe social space and shelter to about 15 to 25 transgender women at a time. Sylvia and Marsha worked as sex workers to come up with money to keep the STAR House operating for the transgender youth. This STAR house was only active until July 1971. The building was acquired by the city when the landlord, Michael Umbers, was put in jail and the city evicted all of the residents of the building. Later the building itself was demolished in the 1980s and replaced by a new building. STAR House was the first LGBT youth shelter in North America. It was also the first transgender woman of color led organization in the United Stated. And it was the first transgender sex worker labor organization. STAR later expanded to other cities, and it became the blueprint for future activists to follow. For example, in 1995, Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Goodwin followed the footsteps on Sylvia and Marsha by Creating their own version of the STAR House which they called the Transy House.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were outspoken about their insistence for freedom. The members of STAR wrote a manifesto in 1970 outlining the group's political ideology and demands, in which they identify themselves as a revolutionary army opposed to the system. The Manifesto condemns homophobia, racism, targeted incarceration, police harassment, and the predatory behavior of men in prison against the gender nonconforming and gay prisoners who write to STAR. Among their demands are the right to self-determination, and an end to job discrimination and street harassment. The Manifesto exhibits a socialist and third gender perspective, with its demands for free education, healthcare, food and social services for all oppressed peoples, and language that distinguishes the members of STAR from either the gay men's or the women's communities of the time. From Rivera and Johnson's perspectives, personal freedom was not only dependent on their own individual rights, but on the liberation of all oppressed peoples.
Later activism by founders
Johnson was later an activist and organizer with ACT-UP. In 1992, Johnson's body was found in the Hudson River, off the Christopher Street docks, under suspicious circumstances. While Johnson's death was initially dismissed by the police as a suicide, friends, family, and several witnesses believe Johnson was murdered. Pressure from the public has led to the case being reopened.
As the mainstream of the gay community became more assimilationist, Rivera in particular often found herself at odds with New York pride parade organizers and other mainstream LGBT groups that practiced "respectability politics" or who saw drag as misogynist. Despite mainstream opposition, Rivera continued to press for the inclusion of trans, and all gender-nonconforming people, in LGBT organizations and legislation. After living in upstate New York for many years, Rivera returned to New York City after Johnson's death, again living for a time at the "gay pier" at Christopher Street docks, and working to organize and support homeless people, especially those with AIDS and substance abuse issues.
Following the June 20th, 2000, murder of Amanda Milan, Rivera briefly "resurrected" and renamed STAR on January 6, 2001. After being honoured in Italy, Rivera continued to work to advance the fight for the transgender civil rights bill in New York City and State and to fight for self-determination for all gender non-conformists.
Rivera died of liver cancer in 2002.
In 2013, Untorelli Press published Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries: Survival, Revolt, and Queer Antagonist Struggle, a collection of historical documents, interviews, and critical analyses relating to STAR.
In an interview in the 2012 documentary, Pay It No Mind: The Life & Times of Marsha P. Johnson, Johnson credits Rivera with founding STAR, and Johnson and friends discuss the work accomplished by the group.
- "Feature Doc 'Pay It No Mind: The Life & Times of Marsha P. Johnson' Released Online. Watch It". Indiewire. December 26, 2012. Retrieved February 17, 2015.
- Feinberg, Leslie (September 24, 2006). Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Workers World Party. "Stonewall combatants Sylvia Rivera and Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson... Both were self-identified drag queens."
- Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibily. ed Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanely, and Johannah Burton. "Trans History in a Moment of Danger: Organizing Within and Beyond 'Visibilty' in the 1970s" by Abram J. Lewis
- Feinberg, Leslie (1996) Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-8070-7941-3
- "Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries". www.workers.org. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
- "An Army of Lovers Cannot Lose: The Occupation of NYU's Weinstein Hall". Researching Greenwich Village History. 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
- "Leslie Feinberg interviews Sylvia Rivera: 'I'm glad I was in the Stonewall riot'". www.workers.org. Worker's World. July 2, 1998. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
- Shepard, Benjamin Heim and Ronald Hayduk (2002) From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization. Verso. pp.156-160 ISBN 978-1859-8435-67
- Jacobs, Shayna (2012-12-16). "DA reopens unsolved 1992 case involving the 'saint of gay life'". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2015-06-15.
- Sylvia Rivera's obituary via MCCNY
- Rivera, Sylvia (2002). Queens in Exile, the Forgotten Ones. Voices Beyond the Sexual Binary. Los Angeles: Alyson Books. p. 67.
- "Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries: Survival, Revolt, and Queer Antagonist Struggle". Untorelli Press.