Approach and Principles of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP)
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence. SRLP is a collective organization founded on the understanding that gender self-determination is inextricably intertwined with racial, social and economic justice. Therefore, we seek to increase the political voice and visibility of low-income people and people of color who are transgender, intersex, or gender non-conforming. SRLP works to improve access to respectful and affirming social, health, and legal services for our communities. We believe that in order to create meaningful political participation and leadership, we must have access to basic means of survival and safety from violence.
Fighting Discrimination against Gender Non-Conforming People: Focusing on People of Color and Poor People
Transgender, transsexual, intersex and other gender non-conforming people face persistent and severe discrimination in employment, education, health care, social and legal services, criminal justice and many other realms. Simultaneously, all low-income people, and particularly those in communities of color, are suffering from the severe cutbacks to anti-poverty programs, increasing militarization of the police, and rising rates of incarceration. Low income people and people of color who experience gender identity discrimination are particularly vulnerable in this climate. Low-income people and people of color are overrepresented in systems such as prisons, group homes, shelters and detention facilities. Because so many of the systems are sex-segregated, many people face serious problems of inaccessibility, harassment or violence if their gender identity or expression does not conform to their birth sex. Many are turned away outright from essential services like homeless shelters, drug treatment or mental health services, while others experience discrimination or violence in these settings because of their gender identity or expression. Police harassment and violence, and mistreatment in juvenile and adult justice systems, are widespread in our communities. Furthermore, those who seek legal and social services to help get on their feet or fight for entitlements often encounter ignorance or discrimination at the door. The result is that transgender, transsexual, intersex and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately poor, homeless, and incarcerated, and are 7-10 times more likely to be a victim of murder. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s work seeks to address both the root causes and effects of discrimination and violence on the basis of gender identity and expression. The right to self determine gender identity and expression and be free from violence is only one facet of a multi-issue movement for justice and self-determination of al people. We believe that justice does not trickle down, and that those who face the most severe consequences of violence and discrimination should be the priority of movements against discrimination. Our agenda focuses on those in our community who face multiple vectors of state and institutional violence: people of color, incarcerated people, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, homeless people, youth, and people trying to access public benefits. We work through a collective structure built on the idea that our work should be by and for our community, and should be focused on maximizing political voice and power while providing desperately needed services.
- To provide access to free, quality, respectful, affirming legal services for low-income transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people.
- To use training, public education, policy reform, and precedent-setting lawsuits to end state sanctioned and institutional discrimination, violence, and coercion on the basis of gender identity and expression, which we understand as inextricably related to race and class.
- To build a non-hierarchical collective organization that internally practices what we’re struggling for by developing the leadership of low-income transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people of color.
- To participate in the larger movement for racial, social, and economic justice that includes gender liberation and prioritizes the issues of those most affected by the systems of oppression under which we live.
The following core values provide the basis of SRLP’s work. It is the responsibility of all collective members to recognize and promote these values in all actions taken in SRLP’s name.
- We can’t just work to reform the system. The system itself is the problem.
- Oppressed people need to be empowered with the skills and vision to fight for their own liberation. For SRLP, this includes taking reasonable steps to provide necessary training and resources.
- All oppressed people need to work together in solidarity to end all forms of oppression. For this reason, SRLP values coalition work with organizations whose stated missions reflect our organizational values.
- We believe that the struggle for gender self-determination will in the end be fought by our whole communities, and it will win liberation for all of our people.
- It is critical that transgender, intersex, and gender variant people and people of color, especially low-income people, youth, and people with disabilities, take leadership in our work. Furthermore, SRLP as an organization must actively work to realize this goal.
- SRLP strives to maintain gender parity at all levels of the organization.
- SRLP believes that the working environment of an organization shapes the work, and for this reason we strive to create an environment that is non-hierarchical in structure and operates by consensus.
SRLP is committed to maintaining a collective body that is diverse in terms of age, race, economic status, class, ability, size, education, citizenship, national origin, ancestry, sexuality, employment status, religion, and gender. It is vitally important that the collective body reflects the communities it serves. To this end, the majority of the collective should be comprised of people of color, people of trans, intersex and gender non-conforming experience, and low-income people. SRLP also strives to maintain youth, people with disabilities, and low-income people in leadership positions. These goals should inform all decisions made with respect to staffing, recruitment, programming, policy, service provision, outreach and education.
We are committed to anti-oppression. This includes reflecting on our own privilege, being open to hearing that we have work to do to address internalized oppressive values or dynamics, redistributing power and leadership away from ourselves when it benefits the collective and the community, participating in ongoing training and learning throughout our lives to address these persistent dynamics, communicating clearly, and supporting other’s communication.