Marsha P. Johnson - August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992
Marsha P. Johnson was an American drag queen and gay liberation activist. Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and became a popular figure in New York City’s gay and art scene in the ‘60s, remaining an important part of the gay rights movement until the ‘90s. Later in her life, she was also an HIV/AIDS activist with ACT UP. Johnson has been identified as one of the first to fight back in the clashes with the police that incited the Stonewall uprising. In the early 1970s, Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization intended to protect, feed, and sometimes provide shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, especially young drag queens and transwomen of color. On one occasion, appearing in a court the judge asked Marsha, "What does the 'P' stand for?" Johnson gave her customary response of "Pay it No Mind.” This phrase became her trademark. In 1974, Johnson was photographed by Andy Warhol as part of his "Ladies and Gentlemen" series of polaroids featuring drag queens. Johnson was also a member of Warhol's drag queen performance troupe, Hot Peaches.
In July 1992, Johnson's body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers shortly after the 1992 Pride March. Police ruled her death a suicide, but Johnson's friends and supporters claimed she wasn’t suicidal and that Johnson had earlier been harassed near the spot where her body was found. Initial attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful. Twenty years later, after lobbying by activist Mariah Lopez, in November 2012 the New York police department re-opened the case as a possible homicide. The case remains unsolved.
I honor Johnson for her immense courage as well as all the other people featured on my blog this month. Happy Black History Month to everyone!