Why Incomplete History Really, Really, Really Sucks

What used to be The Advocate is currently pretending that it gives a damn about Hispanic culture and history (you know, in the same the way that around this time of year you’ll tune into a broadcast of an NFL game and find that you’re watching the Osos de Chicago playing against the Vaqueros de Dallas.)

Combined with what used to be The Advocate also pretending to give a damn about trans issues, we have….

Op-ed: They’re Trans, They’re Hispanic, And They’ve Changed This World

Have you ever heard of Sylvia Rivera? Sylvia, who passed away in 2002, was a trans, bi activist and native New Yorker of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Sylvia advocated for trans rights, especially on behalf of disenfranchised street youth and those caught up in the criminal justice system. She was at the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969 and was one of the lone voices demanding trans inclusion in the early gay rights movement — tirelessly fighting for trans issues to be heard in queer spaces and challenging trans-exclusion in some of our nation’s earliest proposed gay rights legislation.

Have you ever heard of what Sylvia Rivera thought about HRC?  Not if your introduction to her was that Advocate piece.

Lets travel back in time, to 2002 – shortly after her death – and an item in the Boston Phoenix by Michael Bronski:

Sylvia had always remained on the outer fringes of the gay movement — she spent a substantial portion of her adult life homeless and struggling with substance abuse and was famous for her street-smart, no-nonsense, fuck-you-in-your-face brand of politics. But in death she was widely mourned, both by her comrades in Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries, or STAR (which she had co-founded in 1971 as Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), and by the most mainstream of gay groups. Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — one of the most respectable, conservative, and well funded of the national gay-rights groups — issued a lengthy statement of respect for her that read, in part, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Sylvia Rivera, a brave pioneer who helped pave the way for the future of GLBT Americans…. We are proud to honor her enduring legacy.”

But the love fete didn’t go both ways. Rivera was constitutionally opposed to the top-down politics of HRC — and that’s putting it mildly. “One of our [STAR’s] main goals now,” she wrote in April 2001, “is to destroy the Human Rights Campaign, because I’m tired of sitting on the back of the bumper. It’s not even the back of the bus anymore — it’s the back of the bumper. The bitch on wheels is back.” Just weeks before her death, STAR issued a press release that called HRC “a separatist organization devoted to money and power that has insulted STAR and the transgender community through ignorance, arrogance, and transphobia.” Indeed, in light of Sylvia’s Rivera’s true feelings, HRC’s reverential elegy seems not only smarmy, but hypocritical.


A poisonous mixture of smarm and hypocrisy is what I’m coming to believe was the substance below a certain apologetic veneer of a certain speech from a certain current head of a certain organization mentioned in the last sentence of the above-quoted passage.

Given the lack of willingness to acknowledge – much less cough up reparations for – the harm that it did to not simply the trans rights movement but those trans individuals who stood up to HRC, the only history that HRC is interested in is one in which the only ‘record’ of HRC’s crimes against trans people is the true substancelessness within Chad Griffin’s SCC speech.

Looks like the people who were being much more openly pessimistic than I was were right.


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