I mentioned her yesterday and I’m back today with a full article on the beautiful, incredible, Marsha P. Johnson. Born in 1945 in New Jersey, she was an African-American drag queen, transwoman, sex worker, and gay rights/trans rights/AIDS activist. You don’t get much more iconic than this unmitigatedly fabulous woman.
- Note: Marsha would refer to herself as a drag queen, but this could in part be due to the less extensive vocabulary of the gay community at the time of the Stonewall riots. Marsha was a transgender women, but would refer to herself as a transvestite or drag queen. These labels are no longer classed as being the same, and transvestite is now considered a derogatory term.
Whenever asked what the ‘P’ in her name stood for, she would reply ‘Pay it No Mind.’ Being a spectacular queen, Marsha used the same reply when people pried about her gender or sexuality.
The pink triangle is an oft-used symbol for the queer community, after it was used by the Nazis to mark gay people as something derogatorily other. It’s another example of the gay community taking something used against them to their own advantage, very much in the spirit of Marsha P. Johnson.
Marsha was celebrating her 25th birthday at Stonewall during the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969 when the police began a raid of Stonewall under the guise of busting the establishment for selling liquor without a license. When the police began arresting and harassing gay patrons at the club that night, however, the gay community had had enough. Too many times, establishments across the city where gay patrons congregated had been raided and too many times, gay patrons had suffered persecution by the police.
Marsha P. Johnson was among the first of the patrons to resist the police that night, and Sylvia Rivera among the first in the crowd of onlookers to take action by throwing a bottle at her police oppressors. The riots they helped catalyze spread to surrounding neighborhoods until all of New York was in an uproar, and continued on to last several nights. Their bravery, along with the others at the bar that night, led to the gay liberation movement: one year after the riots the first gay pride parades were held, and two years after there were gay rights groups in every major American city.