Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was a gay and transgender rights activist and drag queen. She is credited as being a prominent figure of the Stonewall Uprisings and for being a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front and STAR. She was often recognized as the "mayor" or "saint" of Christopher Street. She earned this name because of her generosity and kindness.
Marsha P. Johnson was born on August 24, 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She moved to New York City at a young age and spent most of her life living there, then going by the name Marsha P. Johnson, saying often that the P stood for "Pay It No Mind". While living in New York, she often struggled with money and was often homeless, having to resort to sex work in order to make money. Her nephew, Al Michaels, described Johnson going home to visit as a "holiday" because the kids would always run to her and she would give them gifts of beads, candies, and flowers. Johnson's mother would make her put on men's clothes when she was in the house and her grandmother disapproved of her but Michaels said it was with an "undercurrent of love." When ever Johnson was in a crisis, such as being reported lost in Hoboken, her family would always pick her up and take her home or to the hospital.
Johnson was a life long activist for gay rights, transgender rights, and AIDS. Marsha P. Johnson was considered the Rosa Parks of the gay liberation movement. She was HIV positive. This is significant because the representation of people with HIV and never been portrayed in a positive way. Marsha P Johnson was a strong LGBTQ, woman of color who didn't let it stand in the way of her mission.
She is recognized as being one of the prominent figures of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, it is often believe that she incited the riots. However, when asked about it Johnson said, "I was uptown and I didn’t get downtown until about two o’clock. When I got downtown, the place was already on fire, and there was a raid already. The riots had already started." Despite discussion regarding her status in starting the riots, there is no denying her vast involvement in the riots and her place in history in Stonewall. After the riots, the Gay Liberation Front was founded, which Johnson was one of the founding members of. The organization worked to maintain the momentum that the riots brought to the gay rights movement.
Along with her best friend, Sylvia Rivera, Johnson co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a gay and transgender street activists organization. This later lead to STAR house, which was a shelter for homeless gay and transgender youth. STAR house did not last long because of how under funded it was but its legacy lived on as an inspiration to other shelters like it.
Drag and Modeling
Johnson was a drag queen, often performing at drag balls in New York City. She then became a member of the drag troupe, the Hot Peaches. With the Hot Peaches, she toured America and Europe to perform drag. She also modeled for artist Andy Warhol as part of his "Ladies and Gentleman" series of trans portraits.
On July 6th, 1992, Johnson's body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers after she had been missing for six days, she was 46 years old. The NYPD officially ruled her death a suicide, however many of those close to her did not believe she would have committed suicide. They believed her death was either an accident or that she was murdered. The ruling of her death was changed from suicide to undetermined in 2002. In 2012, Mariah Lopez lobbied the District Attorney to reopen Johnson's case, this became the subject of the movie The D& Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson lives on as being an activist at the forefront of gay and transgender rights. She has been the subject of documentaries about her life such as: Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson (2012), The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017). She is also the subject of a short fiction film imaging her in the lead up to the Stonewall Riots called Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2016).
Even though at times it seemed like the world was against her, Marsha P Johnson continued to fiercely advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. What she has done for us and her legacy will not be www.hotpeachesnyc.com/hotpeachesnyc/Marsha_P..html. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
Editors. “EXCLUSIVE: Marsha P. Johnson Is ‘The Saint Of Christopher Street’ In Stonewall Film.” Queerty*, Queerty, 24 Sept. 2015, www.queerty.com/exclusive-marsha-p-johnson-is-the-saint-of-christopher-street-in-stonewall-film-20150918.
Commentary. “Why It's Important to Remember That the Rosa Parks of the Gay Liberation Movement Was HIV Positive.” Quartz, Quartz, 20 Dec. 2017, qz.com/1144543/world-aids-day-2017-remembering-marsha-p-johnson/.
“5 Things To Know About Activist Marsha P. Johnson Ahead Of Netflix's Documentary.” Essence.com, www.essence.com/entertainment/5-things-know-activist-marsha-p-johnson.