A researcher just discovered the earliest known recording of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, trans activists and pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement.
The recording is from 1970, when Rivera was only 19 years old and Johnson was 25 years old. That was the year the duo founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization that helped house and feed homeless LGBTQ youth. Rivera and Johnson were interviewed by Liza Cowen, a young reporter for a radio station.
In the interview, they discuss coming to New York, forming their identities, and the beginnings of their activism.
Archival researcher Brian Ferree of the “Making Gay History” podcast discovered the recording in the basement of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. The tape was simply marked “STAR.” Cowan donated it to the archives “decades ago,” but it ended up in the wrong box, and she assumed it was gone forever — until now.
On the podcast, Ferree described what it was like to listen to the recording 50 years later. “It reminded me of how young everyone was then,” he said. “I think the Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera that I’ve grown accustomed to, they were older by the time… the film that I’ve seen of them, the video that I’ve seen of them, the recordings that I’ve listened to from them, they had more time under their belt, and this, it was, it was like they were freshly arrived in New York and just letting it all out.”
Ferree added that this recording reveals more about Rivera and Johnson’s lives than just their organizing work. “They’re also talking about their lives, and they’re talking about how they see the world around them and how they see gender. It’s all very personal,” he said.
The interview tape is a special new addition to LGBTQ history, and it has now been carefully digitized. You can listen to it on a bonus episode of the “Making Gay History” podcast.