This is the beginning of a 3 part post on STAR’s history. The text from this post comes from Martin Duberman’s STONEWALL:
Sylvia strongly identified with those righteous revolutionaries of the Third World, the Black Panthers and…the Young Lords. She marched occassionally with both groups, though often in a stoned-out state, and later, in 1971, she would attend the People’s Revolutionary Convention, and would count her five-minute meeting with Panther leader Huey Newton among the highlights of her life. Though Sylvia concluded that GAA wasn’t “radical enough,” she never left the organization, and her friend Bebe Scarpi always made sure that Sylvi’a dues were paid up. But her primary allegience…came to center on GLF.
Any it was primarily GLF that she turned for help when her dream of creating a refuge for underage street queens began to stir. Sylvia was still only nineteen herself, yet she had begun to worry about “the youngsters,” the kids who started to hustle on the streets, as she had, at ten or eleven and, within a few years, were dead from a stabbing or an overdose or were locked into dead-end lives. She wanted to somehow set up a place where these young queens not only could find emotional comfort but could maybe even learn enough skills to start another kind of life.
The first person she talked all this over with was her old street-hustling buddy, Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha always had a problem staying focused in conversation; she would wander, start off talking about one thing and end up miles away…but when Sylvia started talking to her about “getting a place” for the young sisters, Marsha’s mind concentrated wonderfully. She was instantly excited, eager to help. Sylvia had decided that she would make Marsha president of any group they formed, but Marsha, wisely, wouldn’t hear of it. ”You stay on one thought when you speak,” she told Sylvia. ”I go off in all directions. You’ll be president. I’ll be vice-president.”
They quickly hit on a name for their as-yet-nonexistent group: Street Transvestites Actual Revolutionaries (STAR), then changed “Actual” to “Action.” Their first home was the back of a trailer truck seemingly abandoned in Greenwich Village outdoor back parking area…a step up from sleeping in doorways, and Sylvia and Marsha were quickly able to gather together some two dozen young street transvestites. The ground rule in the trailer was that nobody had to go out and hustler her body, but that when they did, they had to kick back a percentage to help keep “STAR House” going. Marsha and Sylvia took it upon themselves to hustle on a regular basis and to return to the truck each morning with breakfast food for everybody.
Rounding Christopher Street on the way back to the trailer at daybreak one morning, their arms loaded with groceries, Sylvia and Marsha stopped dead in their tracks. The trailer was moving! Apparently somebody had reclaimed it and was driving it off -not realizing that some twenty queens were asleep inside. As Sylvia and Marsha watched, dumbstruck, they young queens, apparently awakened by the start-up noise, started to jump out of the back of the truck. But was anyone still inside? “We’re standing there like two yentas,” Sylvia later recalled. ”I mean, we’re talking about two crazy women: ‘Oh, my God, the kids, the kids! Oh Lord Jesus, please don’t take the children!’ Two crazy women, hysterical. And in full drag.”
…It was time for a new plan. Bubbles Rose Maria, one of the queens who lived in the truck, airily suggested that she go talk to her “friend” Michael Umbers, a well-known Mafia figure in the Village…”He’s got a building on Second Street,” Bubbles added casually…For a small amount of money up front, and a firm deadline on payments, Umbers let Bubbles have the building at 213 East Second Street. Any why not? It was standing empty, little more than a shell…There was no electricity or plumbing, and not even the boiler worked; there they sat, “four queens that don’t know shit about nothing, we’re looking at the tools, we’re looking at each other. We just started taking things apart, putting them back together, and the next thing we knew, the motherfucker was working!”