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Friday, September 24, 2010

Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) A Brief History



STAR was founded in New York City in 1970 by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. (Sylvia is a well known Stonewall veteran, and was one of the street queens who helped escalate Stonewalll from a routine police bust of a queer bar to a revolutionary call for greater LGBT activism and political organization). At the time Sylvia was a 20 year old street queen and Marsha was late twenties. STAR originally stood for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, written as S.T.A.R. The idea was to create a living space for the young queens on the street. They got an old abandoned house on the lower East side from the mafia, and set up S.T.A.R. House, which survived about 2 years. All of the members lived collectively, with Sylvia and Marsha hustling to get money for food so that the younger girls would not have to got out on the street.
I think the historical significance of STAR is that it was probably the first political/social initiative of the trans community in New York City, and certainly the first focused on the problems of throw-away youth in our community.
The attempt to set up S.T.A.R. House is a dramatic and colorful example of the "trans-collective" approach to dealing with socio-economic survival issues of trans people. (Others might be Tiffany House, Transy House, and many others across the country).
Sylvia Rivera continues to be a street level activist pressing for civil rights for queer people, and all people facing discrimination. In 2000 she was the guest of the Transgender Center of Bologna at World Pride week, and she addressed the World Pride Rally in Rome. Sylvia was also arrested with the Soulforce delegation in their action at the Catholic Bishops Conference in Washington DC. She also was arrested in support of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Association in NYC during their action at the 2000 St. Patrick's Day Parade.
After a period of homelessness and living on the Christopher Street Piers in the mid-90's, Sylvia has been living at Transy House since 1997 and steadily expanding her political activities. She is oriented in the same manner as some of the people on the activism committee of NTAC.
Sylvia has now decided that it is appropriate to resurrect STAR, this time as Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. STAR is rather well known in the LGBT community due to the many books and articles which cover Sylvia's role in Stonewall and the LGBT politics which grew out of it.
I see STAR as sort of a street queen version of The Transgender Menace, which aims to galvanize the poorer and most oppressed members of our community. This part of our community is very difficult to organize politically, but represents a part of how we are seen by the broader society. The young girls respond to Sylvia very well, because they instantly see that she is a survivor in a very tough game in life. Sylvia tells people, get a job, get a real life.
Amanda Milan was a well known person in the New York working girl community. She was in a respected house, and she knew a lot of people from clubs and balls. Her murder last June galvanized the community as nothing else has. The murder trial in mid-February is considered important because of its symbolism about the importance given to the murder of a transwoman.
Sylvia is extremely experienced at the use of street activism to focus attention on an issue. She believes that an all night vigil in front of the court house on the day before the beginning of Amanda's killer's trial will make a space in the NY media for consideration of trans rights.
Sylvia has a team of people working with her, including Julia Murray, a well known trans activist and Sylvia's lover, Marina Brown, Laura Potter, Chelsea Goodwin, Jamie Hunter, and me. The base of communications is in the office at Transy House. The MCC-NY congregation will also be supporting STAR Vigil (Rev. Pat Baumgarten).
So far STAR is co-sponsoring the vigil with MGN, with the support of NYAGRA (New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy-Pauline Park, Donna Cartwright, Paisley Currah, Jamie Hunter etc), and the NY GL Anti-Violence Project). The other trans organizations in NYC will also support the action, including Positive Health Project, Safe Space, Audrey Lorde Project and people (but not official endorsement) from the GL Community Center of NY.
Rusty M. Moore

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