VIDEO: The Transgender Heroines Who Started a Revolution: Video Series Explores Activists' Hidden History – and a Possible Murder
For years, transgender voices have struggled to be heard. But for Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women who participated in the Stonewall Riots in 1969, keeping quiet was not an option.
Rhys Ernst, the Emmy-nominated co-producer of Transparent, and Focus Features, the film company behind The Danish Girl, teamed up to create a new documentary series, We’ve Been Around. (Alicia Vikander won an Oscar on Sunday for playing the wife of transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, now out on DVD and On Demand.)
The five-video series, launching exclusively on PEOPLE.com, EW.com, Essence.com and Advocate.com, looks at remarkable, often little-known stories of trans people who made history.
Best friends Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were fighting for the “people who fell between the cracks of the gay and straight worlds,” as the documentary says.
Johnson and Rivera were active in the gay rights movement and fought for more attention to the struggle of people who identified as transgender or non-gender conforming.
“I have been beaten,” Rivera says to a crowd of gay rights activists in the video. “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.”
Together, they decided to start Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or S.T.A.R., which provided support, information and a community for the disadvantaged trans people in their area.
“We’re tired of running,” read the pamphlet for the group. “We intend to fight for our rights until we get them.”
Rivera left New York for a while, but returned in the ’90s to revive the S.T.A.R. house and provide more support for transgender rights. She died of cancer in 2002.
Johnson stayed in New York and joined the organization ACT UP, which started in the late ’80s to combat the AIDS crisis. In 1992, her body was found floating in the Hudson River. The case was initially ruled a suicide, but her family and friends believed she may have been murdered in a hate crime. Her cause of death was changed to “undetermined” in 2002, and the N.Y.P.D. reopened the case in 2012.
The clip concludes by dubbing Rivera and Johnson the “fierce mothers of our generation.”
For more from the We’ve Been Around series, watch these videos: