The brave woman whose legacy is far too often overlooked
It is finally June which means HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!! A month full of parades, events, education, recognition, and remembering those who fought long and hard for the progress we have been able to make up till today whilst simultaneously recognizing how far we collectively still have to go. Everywhere you go you can see rainbow flags adorning buildings, lgbtq+ writers’ books front and center in the libraries, corny rainbow colored clothing decorating target, colorful confections brightening café display cases- you name it. It is a very warm and welcoming time of the year, however far too many of us are unaware of who is the vanguard of the whole pride movement.
Marsha P. Johnson was a black trans woman born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on August 24, 1945. She was brought up in a catholic environment which was difficult as she’d started cross-dressing from a young age. When she graduated high school In 1966 Marsha moved to New York and became a waitress and sex worker as modes of survival. Soon after she began to find joy in the unique nightlife of Christopher Street and became a drag queen/comic/performance artist. Johnson was an outspoken activist who played a key role in the Stonewall Riots. She experienced first hand the discrimination police participated in against trans folks as she’d been arrested well over a hundred times. She used her platform to call out the lack of diversity of the New York Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and became an activist for AIDS.
Marsha was truly an icon. She was a ballroom mother who looked out for the young, a mentor, a bright and bubbly presence that instantly uplifted the mood of any protest she attended. Her bold and elaborate outfits that she made just added to her loud, care-free personality which was undeniably likable. She was rather vocal about her mental health and created STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries) with her mentee Sylvia Rivera. As cis white gays suddenly wanted to become the face of the movement, STAR was created to actively make in difference then and there. Star helped homeless trans youth with shelter/food/clothing in NY, Chicago, California, and London.
Johnson was a hilarious comic whose wit refreshing, whilst being unafraid to sprinkle her political beliefs into sets. She also became a member and toured around London with her gay theater group “Hot Peaches”. Once whilst facing a judge, Marsha explained the P. in her name as ‘Pay it no mind’, who laughed and let her go.
On the 6th July 1992 Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River and so the police negligently ruled it as a suicide, despite numerous community members saying she was not at all suicidal.
Far too often lgbtq+ folks of color, primarily black folks, are discredited for their innovations and bravery whilst middle-class cis gay men have become the default face of the movement. We as a community formed due to the rest of society condemning our identities, despite this a lot of our past leaders discriminated against non-binary and trans folks because they believed they’d have a better chance at gaining rights in doing so. Ever since that divide we've yet to build the bridge to fully reconnect with the most marginalized of our community. We still are invalidating their experiences and not listening to them as much we should, yet they are fighting everyday for our communal progress.
written by J