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Celebrating Black Trans History: Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera

Without Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera, Pride would not be what it is today. As a group, the Queer Community owes a debt of gratitude to these two trans women of color. They both played major roles in the event that came to be known as the Stonewall Riot. It is reported that Johnson and Rivera threw the first bricks that led to the historic riot after an unjust raid at the popular gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. These riots are now widely considered to be the catalyst of the gay rights movement. 

Marsha P Johnson was a Black trans activist who played a fundamental role in the gay rights movement. Assigned male at her birth in New Jersey, she graduated highschool and moved to New York with $15 and a bag of clothes.  Johnson was a well known drag queen, a popular part of the art scene in New York City, and used her fame to bring attention to the gay, Black and trans fights for human rights. When asked about her gender, she said the P in her name stood for "Pay it no mind."

Sylvia Rivera was of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent, self-identified as a drag queen and later as a transgender person. Rivera was assigned male at birth (1951) and raised in NYC by her grandmother from the age of three, after her mother died by suicide. Like Marsha P Johnson, Sulvia RIvera had a conservative family that didn't understand her identity. She struggled socially as she grew more effeminate and eventually ran away from home at age 11. She became a victim of sexual exploitation. In 1963 she met Marsha P Johnson and later said she "was like mother to me."  

During the Stonewall Riots, Rivera refused to leave for six nights, saying "I"m not missing a minute of this - it's the revolution!" She was 17 at the time. In the early days of the gay rights movement, transgender and gender non-conforming people were largely excluded. Rivera was especially known for advocating for the inclusion of transgender and non-gender conforming people into gay/lesbian spaces. 

In 1963 Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera met. Together they founded Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to support transgender homeless youth and sex workers in Manhattan. Johnson was also an activist with the grassroots organization, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act UP).  Rivera worked with Johnson on many projects over the years and was a part of the Gay Liberation Front. 

Marsha P Johnson's life was cut short, when she was murdered in 1992 at age 46. The culprit has never been found and some people suspect that this is because Johnson was quite outspoken against the police. 

Rivera was a trailblazer, spreading education and advocacy for the entire LGBTQ+ community. She died in 2002 from liver cancer, after a life working toward the advancement of her community. In her own words, "I'm tired of living with labels. I just want to be who I am. I am Sylvia Rivera."

It is important to recognize and honor the work of these women who helped make safe-spaces for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. Places where everyone can feel respected, understood and safe.  It is important to recognize them not just as trans activists, but also as people of color and for uplifting the values of intersectionality, long before there was a name for it.

Carrollton Rainbow Inc. is a non-profit organization that hosts regular meetups and events in Carrollton, GA and the surrounding West Georgia area for fellowship with LGBTQ+ and allies.  Our signature events include our annual Carrollton Pride Festival, Carrollton Pride Prom and Carrollton Drag Shows. Additionally, Carrollton Rainbow partners with local venues and restaurants in Carrollton, GA and other organizations to provide a calendar of fun things to do in Carrollton, GA and fun things to do in West Georgia.  We host Q&As, ally-oriented workshops, and online guides to provide the best local LGBTQ+ resources possible as well as to create dialogue with the local communityCarrollton Rainbow believes that representation matters and participates annually in the Atlanta Pride Parade, UWG Homecoming Parade, Carrollton Christmas Parade, Carrollton Mayfest and Carrollton's 4th of July Parade. Our visibility allows others in the West Georgia LGBTQ+ community to live with confidence and pride and to celebrate our identity and shared cultural history.


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