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Learning from Rivera and Johnson
Rivera and Johnson’s thoughts and examples provide much from which we can learn today. In fact, I’ll be discussing their lives for the next few months because I have so much to say. However, to tide you over until then (or in case this is the only article about Rivera and Johnson that you ever read), here are a few lessons we can learn from STAR:
It’s powerful when transgender people support each other: Through STAR, Johnson and Rivera created a community of transgender people who stuck together, shared resources, protected each other, and envisioned a radically different world. By sharing living spaces, food, and other necessities, they created room for transgender women to heal, learn, imagine, and value each other. This space was the source of their power as organizers.
Truly revolutionary organizations are led by their most vulnerable members. Transmisogyny, racism, ableism, and other forms of oppression must be resisted at their intersections: STAR was led by transgender women of color who experienced violence and injustice because they were members of multiple oppressed communities. Rivera and Johnson’s experiences of transphobia could never be separated from their experiences as women of color, poor people, and people with disabilities. STAR was able to articulate a radical vision and take care to bring it into being because it was informed of their own experiences of oppression.
Respectability politics can’t free us, but self-love can be transformative: STAR’s approach to liberation was at odds with that of the emerging mainstream gay and women’s rights movements. STAR loudly and proudly proclaimed that would not and could not assimilate into capitalist society. Instead of pursuing a narrow civil rights agenda, they demanded a restructuring of society. They didn’t hesitate to confront state power directly and they were unashamed to welcome sex workers, drug users, and other criminalized communities. When we examine the legacy of STAR, we find that this strategy had lasting effects on the people of STAR and on our larger society.
Through STAR, Rivera and Johnson challenged the systems of oppression that endanger the lives of transgender women of color. Their examples remain relevant to our movements today.
By: Joy Michael Ellison