The Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans Movement

Sylvia Rivera (far right in illustration above) hated labels almost as much as she hated discrimination. Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, she lived alone on the streets from the tender age of eleven. Despite her hard life, she rallied, protested, caucused, and got beaten and arrested for the inclusion and recognition of transgender individuals. Some call her the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

Early Life

Born to a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Venezuela in New York City on July 2, 1951, assigned male at birth, her parents named her Ray. Her birth father disappeared early in her life. 

Rivera’s mother remarried. The marriage was rocky. Rivera’s stepfather threatened to kill Rivera, her mother, and her sister. At twenty-two years of age, her mother committed suicide. 

Rivera was three when she went to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother voiced disapproval of Rivera’s mixed background (Venezuelan and Puerto Rican) and darker skin color. When Rivera began experimenting with clothing and makeup, her grandmother berated and beat Rivera for behavior that was too effeminate for a boy. Her grandmother’s disapproval and beatings increased after Rivera’s step-father took her half-sister away

They shuffled Rivera between her grandmother’s home, Catholic boarding schools, and friends’ homes. She started wearing makeup to school in fourth grade. Bullied and mocked, she was the victim of many playground fights and even school suspensions.

Her uncle had her earn extra money with sex work. It’s no wonder that by the age of eleven, Rivera ran away from home, never to return.

Life On the Streets

In New York City, 42nd Street was “home to a community of drag queens, sex workers, and those who were hustling inside and outside of the gay community of New York in the early 1960s.” Rivera ran from home to this area. Here, a group of young drag queens adopted her. They taught her how to eke out a living with sex work and live on the streets, often changing sleeping location every night. Like many young homeless queer youth and older LGBT people in New York City, Rivera and her friends hung out in places they could feel safe and part of a community. Most of those places were Mafia-run bars.

In 1963, twelve-year-old Rivera met Marsha P. Johnson, an eighteen-year-old, “African American self-identified drag queen and activist battling for inclusion in a movement for gay rights that did not embrace her gender.” Rivera said Johnson was like a mother to her.

Fighting for Transgender People

The Riot

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. It was a place where young men hustled and people from all over the city hung out after work and on weekends. The Inn is famous for being the setting for what’s now known as the Stonewall Inn Riot on June 28, 1929. 

Rivera’s presence and involvement in the Stonewall Inn Riot, like Stormé DeLarverie, is debatable. Some sources quote her as saying she didn’t throw the first Molotov cocktail, but threw the second one. Many sources cite she refused to go home or go to sleep for seven days because she didn’t want to miss a minute of the revolution.

After the Riot, Rivera laid low for a few months. When she heard about newly formed activist groups, such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), she enthusiastically tried to get involved. But her gender identity troubled the members of those groups. 

Exclusion and Discrimination

The first Pride Parade happened in 1970, but the organizers discouraged trans people, including Rivera, from joining the parade. Rivera was passionate about equal rights for trans individuals but faced relentless discrimination, even from the gay community.  

In 1971, Rivera and Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group focused on giving shelter to queer, homeless youth. They hustled the street to rent a building they named Star House. It provided a safe space to discuss transgender issues. They fed, clothed and sheltered “our other kids.” Though short-lived (STAR died by 1973), 19-year-old Rivera was a like mother to those kids. 

Determined, Rivera fought against discrimination. She even attempted, in a dress and heels, to climb through a window into a “closed door council meeting” discussing trans and gay rights. It wasn’t the only time she was arrested, fighting for inclusion.

Discouraged

Finally allowed to take part in the 1973 Gay Pride Parade. Officially, she could not speak. Outraged, she grabbed the mike and said, 

If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” She was booed off the stage. 

Womenshistory.org

She fought for trans inclusion in the GAA’s campaign to pass New York City’s first gay rights bill. (It passed in 1986, disappointingly without including trans individuals’ rights.)

Discouraged by rampant discrimination, Rivera attempted suicide. Johnson brought her to the hospital and helped her get well. After that, Rivera left the city, her activism limited to low-key events in her area.

Return to Activism

Rivera returned to the city in 1992, after Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. She and the gay rights movement (expanded to include trans and others) reconciled. In 1994, she honored in the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn march.

She started Transy House, modeled after STAR, in 1997. 

Her determination remained. “Before I die, I will see our community, given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.” She continued working up to her death.

Death

With her partner, Julia Murray, at her side, Rivera died from complications of liver cancer at 50.

Legacy

Recognized after her death, Silvia Rivera has a street bearing her name near the Stonewall Inn in New York City. LGBT community organizations across the country and the world pay tribute to her.  In 2015, they hung Rivera’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., making her the first transgender activist to be included in the gallery. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) continues her work to secure the rights of gender non-conforming people. And the number of tributes continue to grow.

Rivera experienced abandonment, abuse, homelessness, drug addition, and incarceration. Poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, and former sex worker, she embodied “otherness” and fought discrimination her entire life. Metaphorically, she sat at the front of the bus and earned the honorific, the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.

What did you know about Silvia Rivera before reading this post?


Image Credits

First Image by Dramamonster at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Final image by Gotty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

More than One Kind of Courage

Everyone admires courage. Everyone wants to be courageous. Usually the courage we talk about, the courage we think about and yearn for, is movie courage. Courage in the face of extreme danger. It is an important type of courage, but there’s more than one kind of courage.

What is Courage? 

Fear and courage are brothers.”

A Proverb

We can all agree that courage is about bravery and a certain amount of risk taking. But how do we define courage? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, courage is mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. 

By that definition, there can be many types of courage. Here we will discuss ten types of courage: physical, every day, moral, spiritual, social, emotional, empathetic, disciplined, intellectual, and creative. 

Physical Courage 

Physical courage is bravery at the risk of bodily harm or death. We romanticize this type of courage in superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman. It’s also the courage soldiers have at war. There have been many, many people in our world who have shown extraordinary physical courage. I’ll name Witold Pilecki and Malala Yousafzai as two with physical courage. It’s likely you know some who have never made the history books or news.

photo of Malala Yousafzai one example of a person with physical courage, in fact she stands for more than one kind of courage

Everyday Courage 

Everyday courage is about the grit and determination necessary to make tough calls about one’s self, life, and loved ones.

tepsa.org

Examples include Stormé DeLaverie who dared to be herself no matter what. It also is a farmer working his field through rain and drought, the person who decides every day to get up and go through their day no matter what, and the child who, despite their fears, walks into a new classroom or situation. It also includes the tougher choices like end-of-life choices, or to walk away from a toxic relationship. 

Moral Courage 

Moral courage means acting on one’s values in the face of potential or actual opposition and negative consequences.”

psychologytoday.com

We are fortunate to live in a world of people with moral courage like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi and many others.

Spiritual Courage

This is the type of courage that allows us “to grapple with questions about faith, purpose, and meaning in a religious or nonreligious framework.” We have spiritual courage when we share our spirituality publicly, or when we answer a child’s question about life after death, or when we seek to understand an unfamiliar belief system. 

Social Courage

This expression of courage involves the risk of social embarrassment or exclusion, unpopularity or rejection. It also involves leadership.

Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks had the social and physical courage to challenge segregation. The Native Americans (and others) protesting at Standing Rock expressed social courage. Every person who comes out as LGBQT has social courage. Often introverts flex their social courage muscles in order to appear in public.

Emotional Courage 

It takes a special courage, emotional courage, to be open to feeling the full spectrum of emotional experience, both positive and negative.

lionswhiskers.com

We could classify this as an everyday courage. All of us should be emotionally courageous. But some of us hide behind one emotion and don’t have the courage to face more difficult emotions. It is also an extraordinary courage for people who struggle with or overcome mental health issues.

Empathetic Courage

Acknowledging personal bias and intentionally moving away from them in order to vicariously experience the trials and triumphs of others is empathetic courage.

In my humble opinion, this should be an everyday courage, but it clearly isn’t a courage everyone shares. Facing one’s flawed way of thinking about another person isn’t for the faint of heart.

Disciplined Courage

Remaining steadfast, strategic and deliberate in the face of inevitable setbacks and failures is disciplined courage.

This is an everyday courage. Every. Single. Day. So many people choose to use this type of courage. I do. You do. Every. Single. Person.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

Thomas Edison

Intellectual Courage

According to tepsa.org, intellectual courage is challenging old assumptions and acting to make changes based on new learnings, understandings, and insights gleaned from experience and/or educational research.

This is often the pursuit of truth. One of the most famous types of intellectual courage was Edward R. Murrow’s report exposing Joseph McCarthy as a racist.

Creative Courage

You have creative courage when you are doing creative work despite your doubts and fears. It’s opening your mind to fresh approaches, new ideas, and acting on them. Anyone who is a creative who has grown in their talent or skills has used creative courage to get there. Creatives use creative courage every time you face a new project, every time you show someone your work. 

More than One Kind of Courage

I hope this brief review of these ten different kinds of courage has helped you see how you and everyone around you use courage. Some are grand, exciting, acts on the world stage. Most acts of courage are quiet. We often label them as “small” because they are quiet. Now that you know there’s more than one kind of courage, don’t compare acts of courage. Honor your courage and the courage of others. 

What type of courage have you used today?

Image Credits

Top image by erwin nowak from Pixabay 

Second photo by DFID – UK Department for International Development via Wikimedia Commons.

Third photo by slowking4 via Wikimedia Commons.

Celebrate Women of History

I love to write about fictional characters whose story challenges them to figure out what they are and who they can be. They can be heroes or villains. But I find inspiration for fictional characters from real-life heroes. On this blog I feature brief histories of women whose accomplishments history ignored for many years. Women who were heroes, big (nationwide or worldwide) or small (in their own community). Today, we’re revisiting a few of those histories and celebrating women of history. 


Cover of Resistance, the story of Agnes Humbert, shows a bridge with WWII barbed wire fences in the foreground . We celebrate women of history to remember the strength of women like Agnes this month.

Agnes Humbert

Agnes was an art historian in Paris during WWII. The book about Agnes tells about her life in the days before the Germans occupied her city through her decision to resist, to being betrayed and arrested, and details her life in a concentration camp. 

Dorothy Cotton

Dorothy (January 5, 1930–June 10, 2018) was born at the beginning of the depression. No one could have predicted the woman she became. Nonviolent, she made a difference in the U.S. civil rights movement and in the world.

Celebrate Women of history means remembering women like Lydia Maria Child in this old black and white photo of her sitting on a porch, one elbow propped on the railing while she reads a book.

Lydia Maria Child

One of the most influential American women writers from the 1820s through the 1860s, she was a prolific author, a literary pioneer, and a tireless crusader and champion for America’s excluded groups. With words, she made a difference. 

Molly Brant

Brant (1736-1796) was an influential Mohawk woman in the American Revolution. A Loyalist, a spy, diplomat, and a clan matron, Brant straddled two worlds. But she kept her native heritage in her speech and dress throughout her entire life.

Huda Shaarawi

She threw off her veil and changed the world. Huda Shaarawi (pronunciation) grew up in a harem and became Egypt’s leading women’s rights activist. Also, a philanthropist and founder of the first Egyptian feminist organization, Huda’s defiance still influences the world today.


Women hold up half the sky, yet women across the world still get little recognition for their accomplishments. Most especially those whose accomplishments are small. The housewife, the mother, the office cleaner all deserve recognition for their role in making this world a better place. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed and found inspiration in this glimpse of the strong women featured on this blog. Let’s celebrate women of history and women of today all year. 

Image Credits

First image is the paperback book cover of Résistance by Agnès Humbert available on Amazon.com

Second photo is a public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Third photo is Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Strong Black Women Past and Present

If I wish I’d had more role models in my life, I know my female, African-American friends had that same wish. Yet they had fewer role models to see in history or daily life. and, I hope, fulfill other young women’s need for role models. The women below are black women I have featured on my blog or women I’ve quoted. I featured and quoted them not because they were black but because they are strong women, both the world and my history books ignored. They are women I consider role models. Today I feature them because they are Black. A distinction that means they were doubly ignored and had to be stronger, more determined, and more courageous than many others. They are more than Strong Black Women. They are inspirations.

The First African-American Professional Nurse

Black and white photograph  portrait of  Mary Mahoney in her nurse's cap  and nurses whites with a fringed scarf tied in a bow at her collar.

Mary Mahoney (1845-1926) made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse , yet many do not know her name. A strong woman, Mahoney, became a nurse despite severe societal limitations placed on black and minority women. She braved discrimination and worked toward equality for black and minority nurses and women.

She means it doesn’t come off, Dana… The black. She means the devil with people who say you’re anything but what you are.”

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

She Refused to be Silenced

Photo portrait of Lucy Parsons has her sitting in profile with her face turned toward the camera. She wears a victorian striped dress and a medium brimmed hat with feathers.. She's one of many strong black women we should have learned about in school.

Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) is a woman of history in my ongoing examination of “Strong Women.” Parsons, the “Queen of Anarchy,” was a woman of contradictions. The Chicago police department considered her “more dangerous than 1000 rioters.” surveilled her, arrested her, and fined her over and over. Yet, she refused to be silenced.

I whimpered, biting my lip. ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here,’ I whispered. Because I was and there was no way out.”

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

She Lights the Way

Photograph portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of many strong black women, she was a child of former slaves  and grew to be an educator and civil rights leader.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an extraordinary woman, an educator, and a civil rights leader. A child of former slaves, she grew from poverty and ignorance into a woman who changed her world. Most of all, she lights the way even after death. 

Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Zero Tolerance for Discrimination

Photograph of Stormé DeLaverie  in a tuxedo and her performance.

Her mother was a black servant in her white father’s household. Stormé DeLaverie (day-la-vee-ay) (1920-2014) was an entertainer, a bouncer, an activist, and a drag king with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Being brave isn’t the same as being okay.”

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, 

Nonviolent, She Made a Difference

Color photograph portrait of Dorothy Cotton smiling into the camera. She is one of many strong black women.

Dorothy Cotton (January 5, 1930–June 10, 2018) was born at the beginning of the depression. No one could have predicted the woman she became. Nonviolent, she made a difference in the U.S. civil rights movement and in the world.

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Maid Who Fought Back

Image of a protest sign that reads "no contract, no peace" alongside the title "Hattie Canty, The Maid Who Fought Back"

Hattie Canty (1934-2012) rose from an Alabama girl to a maid to an African-American labor activist. She was the maid who fought back, the maid who eventually ensured that Las Vegas workers in the hospitality business made a living wage.

For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.” 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Grateful for Strong Black Women

I’m grateful for Black History Month. Grateful to be given the extra push to learn more, to recognize the determination, strength, and the courage of these women, to see and help others see these strong Black women. For more Inspirational Black Women in History, go to PBS.  

Which Strong Black Women would you add to this list?

Image Credits

First Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

She Saved the Moon Landing

Today I have a special guest, L.D. Fairchild writing a post. L.D. Fairchild is an author of young adult fiction. She’s contributed a post about a strong woman who was nearly forgotten. Please give L.D. Fairchild a warm welcome and comment on her post, She Saved the Moon Landing.

by L. D. Fairchild

It’s July 20, 1969. The world is watching as U.S. astronauts attempt to land on the moon. The lunar module nears the surface of the moon. The world holds its breath.

Alarms blare.

The computer is overloaded. Fuel is running out. A decision has to be made about whether to abort the landing.

Photo of the 1969 lunar landing that only happened because of Margaret Hamilton, she saved the moon landing

Software engineer Margaret Hamilton is monitoring the moon landing from her lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While engineers and astronauts hold their breath, Margaret Hamilton’s software quickly begins compensating for the overload, focusing on the most important tasks and ignoring the others.

The lunar module safely touches down on the moon, and Margaret Hamilton and the team of software engineers she leads have saved the moon landing.

Who is Margaret Hamilton?

Despite playing a pivotal role in the success of the Apollo program, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and having her own Lego minifigure, you may never have heard of Margaret Hamilton.

Hamilton was born on August 17, 1936, in Paoli, Indiana. Her family moved to Michigan where she graduated from high school and attended the University of Michigan before transferring to Earlham College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

After graduating, she married and a year later, she and her husband moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he would attend Harvard Law School. Her daughter was born in 1959, and Hamilton took a job in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab of Edward Lorenz, best known for his work on chaos theory. Her work on software that could predict the weather introduced her to the work that would become her passion.

In 1964, after working on software that could detect enemy aircraft, she answered an advertisement from the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory that was looking for people to write software to “send men to the moon.” She applied and got the job overseeing the project. She would eventually have 100 people on the team that would develop the software that would eventually save the moon landing.

Image of Margaret Hamilton working on a mockup of the Apollo capsule controls, she saved the moon landing

A Working Mom

As a working mom, Hamilton would sometimes bring her daughter to the lab with her. On one such occasion, Hamilton was running a moon landing simulation. Her daughter, imitating her mother, hit a sequence of buttons that caused the computer to shut down the simulation. After figuring out what her daughter had done, Hamilton realized an astronaut could make the same mistake.

She requested that NASA allow for a change in the code. They told her the astronauts were too well-trained to make mistakes. However, on the Apollo 8 mission, one of the astronauts made the exact same mistake, and while Hamilton and her team were able to get the mission back on track, the code was changed before the next mission.

A Team Leader

In 1964, it was unusual for a woman to lead a team designing software. First, software engineering was a new field (Hamilton actually coined the term “software engineering”). Second, very few female software engineers existed. Third, having a woman in charge was unusual in many fields.

When Hamilton took the position as the team lead, one of her bosses was worried that the men under her might rebel at being led by a woman. However, Hamilton recalls that she had no problems. In an interview with The Guardian she said, “More than anything, we were dedicated to the missions and worked side by side to solve the challenging problems and to meet the critical deadlines.”

An Innovator

When the alarms started blaring in the lunar module, the concern over losing astronauts was real. When the lunar module finally landed, it had only 30 seconds of fuel left. Mission Control had limited time to make a Go/No Go call.

They were able to say “Go” because Hamilton’s software worked exactly as designed. The lunar module had only 72 kilobytes of processing power to work with. Many cell phones today have more than a million times that processing power.

The small capacity for processing meant that the computer could only do a few things at a time. Hamilton and her team recognized those limitations and created software that could decide which things were the most important at that moment, so the computer would use its processing power for the most critical tasks.

An investigation would later reveal that the astronaut checklist was incorrect, and the astronauts had set the rendezvous radar hardware switch incorrectly, causing the alarm. The software was able to recognize that giving processing power to that switch was a low-priority item, so it reallocated its processing power to critical landing tasks, an innovation that landed men safely on the moon.

Our astronauts didn’t have much time, but thankfully they had Margaret Hamilton.

President Barack Obama when awarding Hamilton
the Presidential Medal of Freedom

An Entrepreneur

Hamilton would continue to work for NASA until 1972 when she left to start her own company Higher Order Software. She would found another company, Hamilton Technologies, Inc., in 1984. Hamilton Technologies developed Universal Systems Language, a tool that helps prevent errors in software based on the patterns she saw during her time developing software at NASA.

In a time when the field of software engineering was in its infancy and female software engineers were nearly non-existent, Margaret Hamilton forged her own path – even when it led to the moon.


L.D. Fairchild is an author and freelance writer who fell in love with all things space-related as a teenager. She is passionate about encouraging young girls to not be afraid to dream big dreams even if they’re unconventional. She writes young adult fiction that features strong, smart heroines saving the world. She also writes a series of children’s mystery books under the pen name Lori Briley that focus on encouraging girls to stand up for what they know is right and to try new things – even if they’re the only girl doing it. You can learn more about her and her books at ldfairchildauthor.com.


Sources:

Margaret Hamilton: ‘They worried that the men might rebel. They didn’t.’

Margaret Hamilton Led the NASA Software Team That Landed Astronauts on the Moon.

Image Credits

Top Photo: Image by Cristian Ibarra from Pixabay 

Middle Photo: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Last Photo: Draper Laboratory; restored by Adam Cuerden., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons