Davina Kotulski

Alexis Rivera: Community Leader & Transgender Advocate

Filed By Davina Kotulski | April 09, 2012 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Alexis Rivera, HIV/AIDS activism, memorial, transgender rights

On April 7, 2012, I attended a memorial service for Alexis Rivera, a beloved community leader and transgender advocate. I did not know Alexis. However, she was so beloved by the LGBT community that she was honored in both L.A. and SF.Alexis-Rivera-Memorial.jpg

I want to share a little about Alexis before I go into talking about my experience of the memorial. She was born October 28, 1977 and transitioned March 28, 2012.

According to her friends and family, Alexis was an amazing, courageous and fierce advocate for transgender equality. She began her activism in California's transgender community almost fifteen ago as an outreach worker for LGBT youth in Hollywood. She was hired at Children's Hospital Los Angeles' Division of Adolescent Medicine where she became a case manager and eventually became the first program director for CHLA's groundbreaking Tranny Rockstar program, where she helped hundreds of transgender youth in Los Angeles. A natural leader, she served as Commissioner for the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV/AIDS, founding board member of FTM Alliance of Los Angeles, and chair of the Transgender Service Provider Network. Alexis was also a founding member of the League of Trans Unified Sisters (LOTUS), a sisterhood for transgender women.

Transgender Law Center was honored to have Alexis join its staff as Policy Advocate in 2007. Alexis advocated for statewide policy change and trained hundreds of transgender community members to build relationships with their elected officials. During this time, Alexis was also a leader of the Transgender Law Center's Health Care Access Project and helped secure affordable transgender healthcare services in several counties across California.

Alexis received many awards and honors in recognition of her leadership, including the Trans-Unity Trailblazer and Spirit Awards, the Latino Caucus on HIV Prevention Leadership Award, and the first QUEST Advocacy Pageant sash in 2002.

"Words can barely express the grief experienced by California's trans communities this week," said Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. "A proud trans Latina and natural leader, Alexis Rivera was a role model and inspiration for countless youth - and many "elders" too. She understood that we are stronger together, and she kept organizing until the very end. Alexis' death is a reminder that the fight for equality - and against AIDS - is far from over."

As you can read, Alexis accomplished and contributed so much in her 35 years of life.

I was told that the memorial in Los Angeles was attending by 200 people. The one in San Francisco was much smaller, maybe half that size. Despite the size, the room which was full of San Francisco's transgender leaders, including Cecilia Chung and Masen Davis, overflowed with love and stories of inspiration of how amazing, courageous, and funny Alexis was. Rev. Jim Mitulski from MCC conducted the service.

Her aunt was there and shared that she was the first one in the family Alexis came out to. Alexis was 16 and she came out to her aunt by asking her aunt to drive them to West Hollywood. They stopped at a gas station, and according to her aunt, Alexis went to the bathroom with a plastic bag and returned in full make up and outfit.

Later when she was 21 she experienced being harassed by two corrupt LAPD officers that thought they were going to get some illegal action by arresting female prostitutes. When the officers "reached down for the goodies" Alexis said, "they got a surprise." She said the officer yelled out "Oh, you are a dragon. You two are dragons." She and her friend were terrified by these corrupt officers who eventually let them go.

She was so taken by being called a "dragon" that she became obsessed with them and started reading everything she could find about them. She discovered that dragons were "genderless" she said, in a radio interview from transponder that was played over the loud speakers of the San Francisco LGBT center. She decided to get a huge tattoo of a dragon on her arm.

What was remarkable was how many of the speakers during the community testimonies talked about the belief that we are always connected to our loved ones and never die; Cecilia Chung in her tradition of Buddhism, some in meta-physical terms, and others in the form of "love is eternal and never dies." As one person said "even though Alexis is no longer here the way we knew her, she is in the air we breathe and the earth we walk on."

While there was some discussion on whether or not Alexis would have approved of the service, since according to those she worked with she was always very particular about doing things the right way, one thing is abundantly clear, Alexis Rivera gave all of herself to make a better world for transgender people everywhere and her contributions to the LGBT community will live on.

Check out a tribute video below.

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