LGBTQ+ History Month: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)



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. Both founders were long-term civil rights activists, and were present during the 1969 Stonewall riots and the intense period of gay organizing that began in the wake of Stonewall.

They created STAR, a radical political collective of intersectional politics, to support and advocate on behalf of some of the most vulnerable members of the community – homeless LGBT youth, runaways and sex workers in Lower Manhattan. Rivera and Johnson were the “mothers” of the household, and funded the organization largely through sex work, hustling in 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.

Their first version of the STAR House was a trailer that was located on a parking lot in Greenwich village. However, Rivera and Johnson returned home one day to find the trailer being removed from the parking lot and decided to find more permanent space. That space was a 4-bedroom apartment in a run-down building with no electricity. The STAR House was located at 213 East 2nd Street, in the East Village in New York and 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. 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.

STAR is considered by many to be a groundbreaking organization in the queer liberation movement and a model for other organizations.

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, and continued pressure from the public has led to the case being reopened.

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.

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