Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American transgender woman, a HIV and gay rights activist, a sex worker, and an icon of Greenwich Village, New York. She was a poignant figure in the gay liberation movement which was a result of the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn. Marsha had also been a model for world-famous artist, Andy Warhol. Marsha had battled severe mental illness and was effectively homeless for much of her life.
Marsha featured in “Ladies and Gentlemen,” a 1975 portfolio of screenprints depicting drag queens and transgender revelers at The Gilded Grape, a nightclub after Warhol took polaroid photographs of her.
The “P” in Marsha P Johnson stood for “Pay it no mind” – Marsha would tell those who we're being too nosey to... pay it no mind.
A quote from The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson Netflix documentary describes Marsha as "The Rosa Parks of the gay movement." Marsha's existence, passion, and charisma was vital in the gay and trans rights movement.
The Stonewall movement helped to make way for a more active and emboldened gay-rights movement. It was around this time when the first gay pride parade took place in 1970. This was the same year, that Marsha and her bestie, Sylvia Rivera, also an activist, founded together the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which became an advocate for young transgender people. For a period of time, STAR would house, clothe and feed those trans people in need. STAR appeared as part of the Gay Liberation Front, championing sexual liberation and pushing the alignment of gay rights with other social movements.
The city of New York announced plans to build a permanent monument in 2021 honouring Marsha and Sylvia. It will be the first permanent, public monument honouring transgender women in the world.
On 6 July 1992, days after the raid at the Stonewall Inn, Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River and it was controversially declared as suicide. The gay community were and are in total disbelief and demanded answers in protests and parades in Marsha's memory, though today, her case has never been brought to justice. In a recent Netflix documentary, speaking with her friends, family and former NYPD officers who were working on the case at the time, the circumstances of Marsha's death are once again questioned after the case was officially re-opened in 2002.
“I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville, until I became a drag queen,” - Marsha p. johnson
Suspicious deaths of transgender people is not something the world has yet overcome. In 2019 alone, 331 trans people were murdered. And these are just the reported cases. Black transgender women are the most marginalised of the LGTBQ+ community. What can we do to help? We can go out of our way to educate ourselves to understand trans lived experiences or someone's experiences and feelings which are different to ours.
You can donate to these funds & causes:
Mermaids has been supporting trans and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families since 1995.
The London Trans+ Pride team are raising funds for next years event. After the smashing success of 2019's march we feel the need to do it again for the Trans, Intersex, Non-binary and Gender Non-Conforming people in London and the rest of the UK.
The All About Trans project looks at creative ways to encourage greater understanding between trans people and media professionals to support better, more sensitive representation in the UK media.
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Be kind to one another, always.