Celebrating Trans Women on International Women’s Day: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

March is a month with many important days and dates, including St David’s Day, St Patrick’s day, Justin Bieber’s birthday (and before you ask, yes, this is a very important day) to name a few. However, this article is written in honour of one of my favourite days of the year: International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD takes place on the 8th of March and is a day in which we are encouraged to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of all women. It is an amazing and important opportunity to raise awareness for issues such as women’s equality, gender bias and discrimination, as well as advocate for the acceleration of gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities.  

IWD can be celebrated by everyone and anyone who wants to fight for gender parity and women’s rights, but it is especially a day for women, all women, ensuring that no women are left behind. This is a day all about the inclusivity and the diversity of women, including but not limited to: women of colour, women from different social and economic backgrounds, women with a range of physical capabilities, women with different religious beliefs, women with different familial backgrounds or structures, women within the LGBTQ+ community – whether they are lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer – and finally people who are gender non-conforming or fluid. A group of women who have often been erased from history or have been silenced are trans women. This article is in honour of women who deserve appreciation on this special day. 

We begin with none other than Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha P. Johnson was a trans rights activist, self-identified drag queen and played an important role in the Stonewall uprising in 1969. The ‘P’ stood for ‘Pay It No Mind’, which is what Marsha would say to people who questioned her gender, appearance or life choices, which really speaks of her character. She was known for being herself and not fearing judgement or harassment which followed her because she lived as a woman, at a time where LGBTQ+ individuals were less accepted, regularly threatened and targeted by police and generally shunned by society. Marsha’s work for the LGBTQ+ community continued after the Stonewall uprising; she became a member of the Gay Liberation Front, a group focused on fighting for gay liberation based in New York, and also co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). STAR was a gay, gender non-conforming and transgender street activist organization that provided support and shelter to LGBTQ+ youth and sex workers and was co-founded with her friend Sylvia Rivera, a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist. 

Sylvia Rivera is another important woman who deserves a lot of appreciation. Sylvia Rivera was also a part of the Stonewall uprising, and was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, but as the group became more conservative, it began to ignore the rights of the transgender population and discriminated against marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community. Sylvia fought against this, was a tireless advocate for marginalized groups from the gay rights movement and was a loud voice for the rights for particularly people of colour and low-income LGBTQ+ people, especially trans people. She opposed the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York was said to be the “woman who ensured there was a T alongside LGB”. 

These women have done a huge amount of work for women and the LGBTQ+ community, and without them fighting for the right to take up space in society, we wouldn’t be where we are today. This is not to say there isn’t more than needs to be done but IWD is a wonderful day to admire how far we’ve come, and who got us here. We can appreciate these women in many ways, through learning about them by reading books, listening to podcasts, watching shows/films/documentaries about them, and dedicating not just IWD, but the year to continuously learn about women who have shaped and changed the lives of women forever. 



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