Marsha P. Johnson: LGBTQ Activist Focused on Transgender Issues
Marsha P. Johnson was born a male on August 24, 1945 and originally named Malcolm Michaels. In 1966 she moved from New Jersey to Greenwich Village within New York City. There she felt free enough to legally change her name to Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the “P” stood for she would respond, “Pay it no mind.”
During this time being gay was considered a mental illness and people would experience violence and discrimination from authorities and were generally ostracized by society. So, even while the growing LGBTQ community had carved out a corner of New York City where they could relax a little, they still were treated like less than. Poverty was common within the LGBTQ community, maybe more so with the transgender community. Marsha herself was struggling and was often houseless.
Marsha and fellow transgender activist, Sylvia Rivera, founded Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries or STAR to help others who were struggling to stabilize themselves within such an unaccepting society. STAR created a safe living space and community for those that needed it and help reduce the amount of violence against the transgender community. Their main focus was to get transgender individuals off the streets and were quite successful.
In the late-night hours of June 28, 1969 police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village called, The Stonewall Inn. The police forced hundreds of people out of the bar onto the street where they began to get rough with people. After many raids on gay bars, and beatings by police this was the straw that broke the camels back. This was the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising or the Stonewall Riots. Marsha was right in the middle of the mix, leading many protests demanding rights for the LGBTQ community.
She was also a member of the GLF or Gay Liberation Front, one of the first organizations for gay rights that accepted transgenders and included them in the fight. She was nicknamed the “Saint of Christopher Street” because of her work with STAR and GLF and her general generosity to the LGBTQ community in New York.
Andy Warhol, the famous artist, lived in Greenwich Village in the 1970’s and gave pride to the community and ended up being quite influential to the LGBTQ community. In 1975 Marsha had the opportunity to pose for Andy Warhol and was featured in one of his works named “Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Marsha passed away on July 6, 1992 under suspicious circumstances. Her body was found in the Hudson river just days after witnesses said they saw her being harassed by a few people. The police ruled it a suicide and never did an investigation.
Her legacy lives on within various organizations including the Marsha P. Johnson Institute which works to protect and defend the human right of Black transgender people.