In 1973, when the LGBTQ activist Sylvia Rivera jumped onstage and commandeered the microphone during the Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in New York City, she was speaking up for a marginalized group within a marginalized group: the transgender community.
Orphaned at a young age, Rivera spent a rough adolescence on the street, where she developed a drag queen persona, and often turned to sex work. In 1970, she and her friend Marsha P. Johnson co-founded the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which provided shelter and support for homeless queer youth. Often, they catered to teenagers and runaways in need of a place to stay.
As an American of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, Rivera frequently found herself at the nexus of multiple prejudices based on race, sexuality and gender nonconformity. These biases hampered her within the LGBTQ community as well, which at first did not see transgender concerns as a priority. While she was an active participant in the Stonewall riots, and an early member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, she had to fight tooth and nail to make herself heard. In her 1973 speech, given at a precursor to New York City’s Gay Pride Parade, her righteous fury at being denied a chance to speak is on full display – as is her charisma. Met at first by boos and jeers from the audience, she gradually wins them over until at last they are cheering with her: ‘GAY POWER!’
Y’all Better Quiet Down 1973
Y’all better quiet down. I’ve been trying to get up here all day for your gay brothers and your gay sisters in jail….
Have you ever been beaten up and raped and jailed? Now think about it. They’ve been beaten up and raped…. The women have tried to fight for their sex changes or to become women…. they do not write women, they do not write men, they write ‘STAR’ because we’re trying to do something for them.
I have been to jail. I have been raped. And beaten. Many times! By men, heterosexual men that do not belong in the homosexual shelter. But do you do anything for me? No. You tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will not put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way? What the fuck’s wrong with you all? Think about that!
… I believe in the gay power. I believe in us getting our rights, or else I would not be out there fighting for our rights. That’s all I wanted to say to you people … come and see the people at Star House….
The people are trying to do something for all of us, and not men and women that belong to a white middle class white club. And that’s what you all belong to! REVOLUTION NOW! Gimme a ‘G’! Gimme an ‘A’! Gimme a ‘Y’! Gimme a ‘P’! Gimme an ‘O’! Gimme a ‘W’! Gimme an ‘E! Gimme an ‘R’! Gay power! Louder! GAY POWER!