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'Equal' docuseries on HBO: Who were Sylvia Rivera and Storme DeLarverie? Activists were key figure at Stonewall Riots

Two people whom we meet in the final episode of 'Equal' are Storme DeLarverie and Sylvia Rivera played by Elizabeth Ludlow and Hailie Sahar respectively
(HBO Max)
(HBO Max)

HBO Max's latest docuseries tells the stories of forgotten people and events of the LGBTQ+ history. As far as television programs go, 'Equal' is one of the more comprehensive accounts of the movement's history, covering not just the famous Stonewall Riots but also the movements that preceded it as well as the people who came before America started to see a revolution for the community.

When we talk about the Stonewall Riots, there are a few names that crop up more often than others, such as gay liberation activist and self-described drag queen Marsha P Johnson, and gay rights activist Craig Rodwell. Of course, there were many people who were involved in the riots who would go on to dedicate their lives to the LGBTQ+ movement. Two of the people whom we meet in the final episode of 'Equal' are Storme DeLarverie and Sylvia Rivera played by Elizabeth Ludlow and Hailie Sahar respectively.

DeLarverie was a gay rights activist and drag performer. She worked for much of her life as an MC, singer, bouncer, bodyguard and volunteer street patrol worker. She was the "guardian of lesbians in the Village", according to The New York Times. She is known as the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement. Her friend Lisa Cannistraci told The New York Times, "Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did," in reference to the outbreak of the Stonewall Riots. On the Stonewall Riots, DeLarverie herself said, "It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience — it wasn't no damn riot," a quote that is heard in 'Equal'.

DeLarverie was born in New Orleans in 1920 to a Black mother and a White father and spent the 1950s and 1960s as the only “male impersonator” in the Jewel Box Revue, the period’s only racially integrated drag troupe. “There were around 25 guys and me,” she told in 2010. She was known for her androgynous appearance and for being able to pass as either a man or a woman, Black or white. 

All her life, DeLarverie worked for the LGBTQ+ community. She also organized and performed at benefits for battered women and children. In her later years, she suffered from dementia and though she seemingly did not recognize she was in a nursing home, her memories of her childhood and the Stonewall Uprisings remained strong.

Rivera was a Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist and the best friend of Johnson. When the gay rights movement excluded trans people, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with Johnson, a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth and trans women. Though her presence at the Stonewall Riots has been questioned by historians, her importance in the LGBTQ+ movement's history is undeniable.

She fought hard against the exclusion of transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York and was a loud and persistent voice for the rights of people of color and low-income queers and trans people. Rivera’s legacy has led to organizations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which “works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race".

'Equal' is available to stream on HBO Max from October 22.