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Marsha P Johnson - Advocate and Activist

When I first heard the name, Marsha P Johnson, I was told she was one of the people who threw one of the first bricks of the Stonewall riots and uprising.  While this may be widely spread as truth, upon doing research there is no evidence to support this.  There are many versions of the events that happened that night.  When doing research, I found out so much about this wonderful person.  As part of Gay Pride Month, we are going to take a look at her life and how she had an impact on the community.

marsha p johnson with flower crown

“I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville, until I became a drag queen.”

Marsha was born on August 24, 1945, in New Jersey.  She was the fifth of seven children born to her parents.  She attended church with her family as a child and remained a practicing Christian for the remainder of her life.  At the age of five, she started wearing women’s clothing.  Even then she knew who she was.  Other children bullied her for this and she was a victim of sexual assault by a 13-year-old boy.  After graduating high school in 1963, Johnson left home and headed to New York with $15 in her pocket and a bag of clothes.

Once in New York, she took on the name of Black Marsha.  This eventually led to her name Marsha P Johnson.  She got Johnson from the Howard Johnson restaurant.  The P stands for “pay it no mind”, which is a mantra she used when she was questioned about her gender.  Marsha made her way by performing as a drag queen and being a sex worker.  

Marsha is most famous for being a part of the Stonewall riots and uprising.  Many reports say what happened but as far as her throwing a brick or a shot glass, nothing has been confirmed on that.  She is considered by many to be among the front-line people involved in the riots.  Marsha does not deny being involved in the uprising but does deny that she was one of those who started it.  She arrived at the Stonewall Inn when the uprising had started.  

Marsha was also involved in many other organizations.  She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF).  She also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her good friend Sylvia Rivera, which helped gay and trans homeless youth.  Marsha performed drag with the troupe Hot Peaches and even modeled for Andy Warhol.  She was an AIDS activist with the organization ACT UP.  

Marsha passed away in 1992 and her legacy lives on in an organization in her name, The Marsha P Johnson Institute.  MPJI works on the same issues that Marsha herself worked on - civil rights, gay rights, arts, and transgender rights.  At MPJI they have the Starship Fellowship Program, which aims to empower black trans artists and provides resources to help them sharpen their craft and learn new techniques from mentors.

marsha p johnson with megaphone

“You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights.”

We could all stand to learn a lesson or two from what Marsha has lived through and done with her life.  Now is the time to speak up for what we believe in, and to be the voice for those who do not or cannot voice their own.  Go out and get involved in the community and support those around you when you can.  We have come a long way since Stonewall, yet we still have so much farther to go.  But we can achieve our goals if we work as a community and not against each other.

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