Transgender woman Marsha P. Johnson was a gay and transgender rights activist, who played a detrimental role in the 1969 New York Stonewall riots. She famously said, “What’s the point in complaining? It don’t get you nowhere”.
The Stonewall Inn was a rarity in Manhattan in the 1960s, in that it was one of a small number of places in which people of the same sex could dance together, without the fear of harassment.
On 28 June 1969 however, the bar’s patrons were confronted by the police, which led Marsha, amongst others, to fight back. This instigated the LGBT movement and early Gay Pride marches in the city at the time.
In 2015, the Stonewall Inn was included in the list of New York City landmarks. Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, reportedly described the inn as “a tipping point in history where we know, with absolute clarity, that everything changed”.
Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were the co-founders of an organisation named STAR, which stood for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The group did incredible work for transgender people and drag queens, including standing up for the rights of transgender people to be involved in the fight for gay rights. STAR also had a shelter for those who were transgender or a drag queen and homeless.
Marsha was also an activist for the Gay Liberation Front and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.
Famous drag queen of our time RuPaul has spoken of Marsha’s crucial work, describing her as “the one who paved the way for drag queens”. She has also had a film made about her, named “Happy Birthday Marsha”, and a documentary, “Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson”.
She would say that the “P” in her name stood for the phrase, “Pay It No Mind”, a response that she would reportedly use when often questioned about her gender.
In 1992, Marsha sadly died at the age of 48. She supposedly committed suicide, but the investigation has since been reopened as some questions remain unanswered. Her friends and family did not believe that she was suicidal and she was reportedly being harassed around the time of her death, but there has been no official change to her cause of death as of yet.
Despite not being as well-known as she deserves, Marsh P. Johnson was kind-hearted, popular and undoubtedly a leading activist in the fight for the LGBT rights, in particular the inclusion of transgender individuals.