memorial tribute to Alexis Rivera

Our dear friend and an amazing community activist, Alexis Rivera,  died yesterday at age 34 of complications related to HIV. Many of us were with her around-the-clock during her final week in the hospital, as well as during her 6 days at hospice.


We owe a huge thanks to Sanctuary Hospice, who provided 24/7 staff, as well as all of the medical equipment and medications to Alexis for free during her hospice stay as well.

The community owes a gigantic debt of gratitude to Kathy Watt, ED of the Van Ness House, because she brought Alexis home. Van Ness is where Alexis transitioned into womanhood, and where she transitioned out of  our world as well. Kathy and her staff provided room and board free of charge, and support to us caregivers , so that Alexis, who was without any kind of medical insurance, could live with dignity in a space in which she would be respected and honored for the woman she was,  for as long as Alexis needed it.

Personally, I want to thank Kathy Watt, whose perfect words on the hospital phone to Alexis when we were trying to get her to agree to hospice even as she refused to believe that she was not going to go home to resume her normal life, because she made the transition from hospital to hospice possible.

And I want to thank Farina Dary, who provided the family – and Alexis – with the missing key… the piece that let Alexis finally let go. It was a profound experience, and one which I will never forget.

Here is Alexis’ bio, for those who don’t know her:

Alexis Rivera, a proud queer transgender woman, was born and raised in Los Angeles. Alexis was involved in the Transgender community for the past 15 years, beginning her activism as a teenager doing street outreach to LGBT youth in Hollywood. She eventually became a case manager and later the first program director for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’s iconic Tranny Rockstar program, helping provide vital support services to hundreds of transgender youth in Los Angeles. She participated as a Commissioner for the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV/AIDS; was on the founding board of the Female-to-Male Alliance of Los Angeles; and, for six years chaired the Transgender Service Provider Network. Alexis was a founding member of the League of Trans Unified Sisters (LOTUS), a sisterhood for transgender women. Alexis later rose to even greater prominence on a statewide level as Policy Advocate for the Transgender Law Center, playing an instrumental role in advocating for statewide legislative change and training hundreds of transgender community members to speak to 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 the state of California.For the many life-changing contributions Alexis made over her lifetime, she received several awards including: the Trans-Unity Trailblazer Award; the Latino Caucus on HIV Prevention Leadership Award; the Trans-Unity Spirit Award; and she was named the first winner of the QUEST Advocacy Pagaent for transgender woman in 2002. Alexis described her many years of ongoing activism as a labor of love.

All of this is true. Alexis was an amazing community activist. She was also a mother. She also became a grandmother a month before she died. She was also a sister, a daughter, a grand-daughter and and an aunt. She was a mentor to so many, and a friend to many, many more. She was family to me and to Talia; and it was our little family, who cared for her during the last year especially, when she was hospitalized so much. Diviana Ingravallo, Christina Quinonez, Isabella Rodriguez, and Luc Jauregui, Sabel Samone – our family – especially during those few weeks when she was out of the hospital – tried so hard to change the situation until we realized that it was just too late.

But speaking personally, I want to say that all of this is true, and still it is a more complicated picture.

Why does a 34 year old woman die of advanced HIV disease? In Los Angeles? With access to every benefit, and surrounded by family… and friends – most of whom work in the field of HIV social services? Especially when she herself worked in HIV services for many years.

Shame does so much more than we can see on the front end, Secrecy. Denial. Things she never talked about. The relationship with the person who eventually infected her with HIV. The complications of silicone, and how that impacted her ability to fight her HIV effectively. Her virtual refusal to be adherent to her HIV meds, and her refusal to talk about it.

The trans community is one which holds up their leaders on pedestals. W love our community leaders –  leadership is one of the most overused words in L.A. trans community planning. I know Alexis loved her role as a community leader. But I think that given who she was, it troubled her ability to be honest about what was going on. She didn’t want to ask for help – not only because she would rather deny that she was living with HIV – but also because she knew about the ripple effect, and she was concerned for the effect that it would have on the larger trans community – especially the youth. Instead she chose to hold most of it inside, and to deaden the pain in other ways.

Alexis died of so much more than HIV. I hope that those of us who love her, who admire her, who were influenced by her, and who are the bearers of her legacy and her memory can help others to see that this didn’t have to happen. Not at this time, and not in this painful, painful way. I believe adding this part of the story to the story so many already are aware of will actually strengthen her legacy, and allow her to continue fighting for social justice for & with her trans sisters and brothers even into death.

I woke up this morning for the first time in 2 days – none of us got any sleep the night she died. I woke up with a light heart. My sister Alexis is no longer in pain. Not physical pain. Not emotional pain. She was never left alone by her chosen family, or her mother Annette, during her hospice stay, and when she breathed her last breath, her face became peaceful. I can’t hear her raspy, gurgley breathing, and I don’t have to try to assess whether morphine or antivan would make her feel better right now. I can look out of my window and know that yes, we have a lot to do still, but something we tried so hard to do has been done. Alexis let go of her pain, and we helped her to do that. This is good.

~ Susan Forrest

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40 Responses to memorial tribute to Alexis Rivera

  1. met alexis at the transgender forum here in LA a few years ago well loved and will be missed a bright star in the LA community helping one and all and their decisions to be who they are and willing to help them in anyway to make things happen for those not as fortunate as her . she was the LA liason here for TLC in SF and she strode to make things happen in a trans community a community still trying to receive the respect of all as many tried to live their lives in harmony alexis was our leader and she will be throughly missed rest on sister …. you fought a good fight…. Darlene Broussard

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  2. Awareness says:

    The last time I saw Alexis was at oxwood inn this summer, she was so happy, always affecionate instant hugs an kisses whenever we’d run into eachother. I am saddenend I could not be there for her at her end to tell her how special, important and very much still needed she is.

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  3. thank you, Susan, for sharing this with the world.

    Like

  4. Thank you, Susan, for sharing this with the world. <3 Sofia

    Like

  5. Emilia says:

    I remember when we were in APAIT’s first trans pageant together. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but Alexis was willing to help out a competitor. That was the kind of person she was.

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  6. Pingback: on the passing of our dear community member Alexis Rivera « HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force

  7. Susan C. says:

    Thank you, Susan and family, for all you have done to help Alexis. You all have demonstrated for the rest of us, courage, unconditional love and acceptance. One couldn’t help but like Alexis instantly. Her affection for people, her seeming ease with showing love and gratitude, her large presence in the community. I will miss all of that and will miss her. Susan C.

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  8. Thanks you Susan for this and helping celebrate this beautiful flame of life.

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  9. fileclerk10 says:

    Thank you for everything. I don’t know what else to say…

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  10. Heather says:

    RIP Alexis. Thank you for making the world a better place and for being a positive role model for all.

    Like

  11. Rev. Megan More says:

    While I have most likely met Alexis, my involvement in the Trans community in earnst has only just begun since I entered Seminary and have been ordained an openly transgendered Reverend with the MCC. I wish I had known Alexis as well as others I have now come to know, and had been able to work with her. My deepest condolences to the entire TG community for our loss in this, since each such loss does diminishes us all. To Alexis, I say that God (by whatever name we use) is now holding you close, because you really earned that in life.

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  12. Gail Rolf says:

    We are shocked to learn of the passing of Alexis. We knew Alexis as an activist in the LGBT community, with the emphasis on the “T.” She helped so many young people to understand that it was okay to be they were, and she helped them with that transition, not only in a physical way, but mentally and spiritually as well. Yes, she did have the spirit! She truly will be missed by all of us at Friends of Project 10.

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  13. Ryka Aoki says:

    Yes. Why? This did not have to happen in this way, not in 2012, not in LA. Yet for all our love, somehow we were powerless to stop this. But it IS within our power to give this meaning. To learn from this, to change from this, to evolve from this. Heaven gets a beautiful new angel. But while we are here, let’s also learn from a woman and sister’s life lived. In a way, that’s a greater legacy for all of us to treasure. Much love. Ryka

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  14. Emerald says:

    My condolences to you and to the transgender community. Thank you for writing this piece.

    There is still much work to be done.

    Rest in peace, Alexis.

    Like

  15. Carolina Lynn says:

    Hate this date, March 29, so much! My own sister died on the same date 2 years ago! Hate it! But glad Alexis, as was Charlotte in 2010, taken to a much better place, fee of suffering. To my friend and one-time roommate Alexis, a bittersweet farewell, sweet sister. We’ll all meet up again some day! Love.
    Carolina Lynn

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  16. Karin Fresnel says:

    I’ve known and worked with Alexis for several years. She was and still is a great soul. She will be missed by the many whose lives she touched, changed, and through her work, will continue to change.

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  17. Storm Salazar says:

    Alexis, was there for me in my time of need when I didn’t have a job and she use to always tell me, “I see something in you and I see that your gonna go far in life and do good things” I remember when I used to see Alexis give speeches at different events, I use to always just sit and think. “I WANT TO BE JUST LIKE HER WHEN I GROW UP.” Shes so smart and knows exactly what to say. I love and do miss you.

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  18. Traci Bivens says:

    Thank you for this amazing piece on Alexis. She was an amazing spirit – her dedication and presence will surely be missed. I hope this allows others to end the shame, silence and denial that is killing our communities.

    Like

  19. Lex Steppling says:

    Rest in Peace Alexis Rivera. Taken so young from a life that was harder than it should have been. Alexis was at her very core a teacher. A true educator. Everyone who met her learned something and no matter where you were in your life she was there to help you understand her life and her cause. She created so many allies and I hope her uncanny ability to build bridges will continue. Alexis was unapologetic in her work and advocacy. It wasn’t her fault that society was oppressive, and she didn’t apologize or excuse it away. She instead provided a relentlessly powerful and compassionate voice, and it was that oppression that took her life. We used to pass each other in the hallway and say “nice name”. That was 15 years ago when first met her. I also remember her giving a speech in London to a group of people who mostly had never been in a critical space to look at issues like gender roles or gender conformity. The connection she made with that group was deep and tangible. RIP Alexis. Wish I could have thanked you more for the impact you had. Continue to fight all forms of patriarchal oppression and hopefully brilliant people like Alexis don’t have to live and die in struggle.

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  20. Victor Nardo says:

    Alexis was a remarkable person and I am grateful to have known her. I learned a lot from her and am thankful to have happy memories of time spent with her. Thank you for putting up this post about her.

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  21. Anthony Ross says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and for being so honest. I really admire that part, and I do believe it is helpful. I didn’t know Alexis, but I imagine she would be proud – as an activist – always working to build awareness. I am truly sorry for your, and the community’s, loss. May she rest in peace.

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  22. Terry S. says:

    What a wonderful, touching tribute. She was lucky to be surrounded by such love.

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  23. Kellii Trombacco says:

    Let me express my sincere thanks to Susan for expressing so beautifully the sentiments of many of us, for Alexis. I will forever remember Alexis greeting me with open arms, while calling me “grandma.” She will forever live in my heart. I met her during the time she enrolled in my Transgender class and she was always an absolute joy and a source of encouragement to me and the community. Because of her and women like her; I was inspired to continue my work. and now….her passing has made me realize there oh so much more work to be done. I remain grateful to her for what I am feeling right now and will work to transfer these feelings into working even harder to support, contribute and achieve the liberation and permission to always love ourselves. That love can be the encouragement to all of the communities. Our most important validation comes from within. Let your light be a beacon for all to see…..I love you all….

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  24. debtheblogger says:

    I’m so sorry. I will be there Sunday. Please let everyone know the best way to help, both now, and in the future.

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  25. Pat Magee says:

    A truly exceptional person, beautiful spirit, and a tremendous loss to the community.

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  26. Thanks for a lovely remembrance that embodies the activism that was one aspect of our lovely dancing Dakini. I’d say I barely knew her, but if you spent any time with her at all, she soaked into you.

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  27. Alexis, helped shape me into the organizer I am today, she was a wonderful spirit and joy to be around. As President of QPOCC 2012 I will not be able to attend her service on Sunday, but I have decided that we will dedicate Opening ceremony to Alexis and her work and to recognize her work in HIV activism, we are having a testing unit come out and to provide a space for people to know their status. Susan thank you for compiling this and helping celebrate her life and work.

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  28. Johanna Malaret says:

    Susan and the rest of the choosen family by her side consistently for the last several weeks, thank you is not a robust enough word. How you speak of her as a whole person above is beyond beautiful. There are parts you mention above that for many will be hard to taken in as there belief is that perfection is flawless. In fact it is very much the oppossite, perfection should be relabeled as a “whole person with strengths and flaws,” so in fact she was perfect because she was real even though she struggled seeing it for herself at time, felt shame, hid secrets to protect herself and others, was fiercer than fierce, loving and a laundry list of other wonderful things. At the end of the day and on her final breath she was flawless in many ways and not flawless in lots of others. Thank you for your immense love for her and your ability too see her as a whole person and love her up even more because of it. En paz descanse hermanita. Rest in peace little sister.

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  29. Pingback: Alexis Rivera, Transgender Rights Advocate, Dies In California » Transvestite Ireland

  30. Jake Finney says:

    Alexis may not have been willing to take the steps necessary to care for her health, but she lived her life the way she wanted, full throttle…and i felt honored to have been part of her caregiving team the last few weeks of her life. she and i reconnected in many different ways those long nights in the hospital, and end in the end she left me with the gift of true love. Sleep with the angels Sexi Lexi…

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  31. Pingback: California Transgender Rights Advocate Dies At 34 | USA Press

  32. Pingback: memorial tribute to Alexis Rivera « HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force

  33. Susan,

    I never met Alexis or you. I just wittnessed from a long distance. With deep respect for both of you. I am so sorry for you and the ones who loved your Alexis as the very special persion she obviously was to you and so many others.
    I understand the pain and wish you the best and Alexis peace because angels do fly to heaven.
    Both of you have touched many more hearts than you will ever know.

    Alice
    Netherlands

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  34. Jessica Lawless says:

    Thanks for this beautiful memorial Susan. My heart goes out to all of you and all of Alexis’ families. What a loss and a heartbreak. ~Jessica

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  35. Thank you so much Susan, for this very inspirational heart-felt loss, memory and reminder that we have much more work to do with our sisters and brothers who remain unspoken of… and to those, that have actually stepped-up to the plate, just like you and Alexis… to make a whole world of difference!!!! I truly understand our overall diversity acceptance may still seem “out of reach” to all our communities, far-fetched seems for many of us [GLBTQ]… and yes, our constant struggle in fact remains…. that we MUST CONTINUE in this fight, via advocacy effforts, to continue the RIGHT of FULL ACCEPTANCE and equality (I believe this is your calling, as same from many of us). Lastly, forever will continue to live inside us the fond memories of Alexis. I hope to once again run into you soon. :(

    Juan Carlos Callejas
    Housing Specialist
    SRO Housing Corporation

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  36. Jo Olson says:

    Thank you everyone who came to celebrate Alexis, and the amazing trailblazer she was during her too short stay here.. I was so moved by the services today, and by the love in the room for this very special woman who touched all of our lives in ways she could not imagine.
    Jo Olson
    Children;s Hospital Los Angeles

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  37. Pingback: Alexis Rivera Dead: Transgender Rights Advocate Dies In California » Transvestite Ireland

  38. WOW!!!!! ALEXIS AND I WERE SISTER SINCE I WAS 15 AM GONNA BE 31 IN AUG.. I KNOW AL ABOUT HER LIFE, AND SHE KNOW AL ABOUT MINE.. I DID NOT KNOW SHE WAS POZ TILL ABOUT A YR AGO.. I TOLD HER I WAS POZ ALMOST 8 YRS AGO, AND SHE WAS THE LAST PERSON I TOLD I WAS POZ FOR ABOUT 5 YRS.. AND THE TRANS WORLD IF YOUR POZ YOU REALLY GET LOOKED DOWN ON. AND I DONT KNOW WHY OR IF SHE WAS TAKING HIV MEDS… BUT I KNOW HIV MEDS DO KILL, LOOK UP THE D.A.D STUDY I HAD MY FIRST HEART ATTACKET AT 24 MY 2ND AT 27.. I DONT JUDGE HER SHE MY SISTER I LOVE HER AND TILL WE MEET AGAIN ALEXIS , YOU AND MY SOUL 4-LIFE!!!!! XOXO, JULIET “DITA”GERMANOTTA

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  39. Juliet Dita Germanotta says:

    Imagine if I was given one moment,
    just a single slice of my past.
    I could hold it close forever,
    and that moment would always last.

    I’d put the moment in a safe,
    within my hearts abode.
    I could open it when I wanted,
    and only I would know the code.

    I could choose a time of laughing,
    a time of happiness and fun.
    I could choose a time that tried me,
    through everything I’ve done.

    I sat and thought about what moment,
    would always make me smile.
    One that would always push me,
    to walk that extra mile.

    If I’m feeling sad and low,
    if I’m struggling with what to do.
    I can go and open my little safe,
    and watch my moment through.

    There are moments I can think of,
    that would lift my spirits everytime.
    The moments when you picked me up,
    when the road was hard to climb.

    For me to only pick one moment,
    to cherish, save and keep,
    Is proving really difficult,
    as I’ve gathered up a heap!
    I’ve dug deep inside my heart,
    found the safe and looked inside,
    there was room for lots of moments,
    in fact hundreds if I tried.

    I’m building my own little library,
    embedded in my heart,
    for all the moments spent with you,
    before you had to part.

    I can open it up whenever I like,
    pick a moment and watch it through,
    My little library acts as a promise,
    I’ll never ever forget you…

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  40. jene26 says:

    Thank you for sharing . This is a great memorial and remembrance to her. Hope she will be able to rest in peace.

    Like

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