Celebrating Women’s History Month: Spotlight on Sylvia Rivera and Amrita Pritam

At Hyland, we endeavor to create a culture that supports all races, ethnicities, gender identifications, and sexual orientations. As a committee member of Hyland’s multicultural employee resource group (MERG), I’m proud of how we empower employees of color and people from underrepresented cultures to overcome barriers in order to excel personally and professionally.

This also helps our organization attract and maintain a diverse workforce, which is part of our core values. While the MERG and our efforts are giant steps in the right direction, we recognize that diversity, equity, and inclusion is a journey, not a destination.

As part of that journey and our efforts to support all our employees, their families, and the communities we serve, we’re celebrating Women’s History Month by shining a spotlight on women who led the fight for positive change in their communities, and around the world.

Today, we take a look at two women with vastly different backgrounds who became leaders in the quest for equality.

Using adversity to create change

Sylvia Rivera was a transgender activist of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. Born July 2, 1951, Sylvia’s childhood was traumatic. By the young age of 11, her family had abandoned her, and she was living on the streets of New York City. Then, one day, a local community of drag queens took her in.

This supportive community shaped Rivera, and at the age of 18, she joined the Gay Activists Alliance, where she fought for the inclusion of drag queens in the gay rights moment. That same year, Rivera and her friend Marsha P. Johnson co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which provided shelter for homeless LGBTQIA+ youth and advocated on their behalf.

Rivera was also a strong supporter of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) in New York. Introduced in 1971, this legislation aimed to implement civil rights and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, public accommodation, education, and employment. It became law in 2002, the year Rivera passed away.

Rivera’s passion to protect homeless LGBTQIA+ youth from an exploited childhood like her own made her a key figure in activism. In honor of her work, at the Millennium March on Washington in 2000, she was recognized as the “mother of all gay people.”

Changing yourself

Amrita Pritam was an Indian writer who produced novels, essays, and poems in both Punjabi and Hindi. Revered as the first prominent female Punjabi poet, she was a pioneer for women’s voices in Punjabi literature.

Pritam’s writing career spanned six decades. In that time, she produced more than 100 books of fiction, poetry, essays, and even biographies. Her dominance as an Indian literary icon was cemented when her works began resonating with readers on both sides of the India-Pakistan border.

Her initial works were romantic, but Pritam’s tone changed when she joined the Progressive Writer’s Movement – a literary movement that advocated for equal rights for all people and challenged social injustices.

This change is reflected in her most well-known poem, “Today I Invoke Waris Shah” or “I Say Unto Waris Shah,” which highlights the massacres and influx of refugees from the Partition of India in 1947, when Britain divided India into the independent countries of Pakistan and India.

Pritam received many awards for her literary works, the most notable being India’s highest literary award, the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award. She was also the

first female to receive the Sahitya Akademi Award. Although she died in 2005, he words live on, helping others find the way to change themselves for the better.

Changing the world

Both of these women saw injustice in their communities and countries and felt compelled to act. They changed their own lives – and the lives of many others – for the better, forever.

These women have inspired us in the MERG committee, and we are grateful to be able to share their stories for Women’s History Month. I hope you find them motivating.

Megan Holmes

Megan Holmes

Megan Holmes has been part of Hyland’s Imaging Services team since 2018 and recently joined the leadership committee for Hyland’s Multicultural Employee Resource Group. Her favorite parts of her position... read more about: Megan Holmes

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