Marsha P. Johnson was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen who was well-known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights and also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front. Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 who was also known as the “mayor of Christopher Street” for her welcoming presence in the streets of Greenwich Village.
As well as an activist, Johnson was a drag artist, a sex worker, a transgender activist, and a pioneer, who died on July 6, 1992, in New York City, at age of 46 without being identified as much she could be. After almost 30 years of her death, Johnson is getting the attention she was denied when she was alive, so, a monument dedicated to Johnson will be unveiled in New York in 2021. On June 30, 2020, Google celebrated Marsha P. Johnson with a Google Doodle.
What was Marsha P. Johnson Famous for?
- Famous as a late African-American transgender activist and pioneer.
Where was Marsha P. Johnson Born?
Marsha P. Johnson was born on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, United States. Her birth name was Malcolm Michaels Jr. Her nationality was American. Johnson belonged to African-American ethnicity while Virgo was her zodiac sign.
Marsha P. Johnson was born as one of the sons of her parents in 1945 and was raised along with her 6 siblings. Johnson was born to Malcolm Michaels Sr.(father), who was an assembly line worker at General Motors and Alberta Claiborne(mother) who was a housekeeper. Johnson attended an African Methodist Episcopal Church as a child and remained devoutly religious in later life.
Johnson first began wearing dresses at the age of five but stopped temporarily due to harassment by boys who lived nearby. She had the idea of being gay as “some sort of dream” so she chose to remain sexually inactive until leaving for New York City at 17. Her mother, who was unaware of the LGBT community at the time, reportedly said that being homosexual is like being “lower than a dog”.
She attended Edison High School and got graduated in 1963, after which he left home for New York City with $15 and a bag of clothes at the age of 18. Johnson waited on tables after moving to Greenwich Village in 1966 and after meeting familiar faces, gay people in the city, Johnson felt it was possible to be gay and was able to come out.
When Did Marsha P. Johnson Die?
Marsha P. Johnson died on July 6, 1992, in New York City at the age of 46. At the time of Johnson’s death in 1992, Johnson was said to be increasingly sick and in a fragile state according to her friend, Randy Wicker, who invited her to stay 1 night when it was 10 degrees. Shortly after the 1992 pride parade, Johnson’s body was discovered floating in the Hudson River.
Initially, it was ruled the death of suicide, but her friend and other supporters insisted on murder as the back of Johnson’s head had a massive wound. A witness even saw a neighborhood resident fighting with Johnson on July 4, 1992. During the fight, he used a homophobic slur, and later bragged to someone at a bar that he had killed a drag queen named Marsha.
However, in December 2002, a police investigation resulted in a reclassification of Johnson’s cause of death from “suicide” to “undetermined”. Johnson’s dead body was cremated and, following a funeral at a local church, friends released Johnson’s ashes over the river.
Marsha P. Johnson’s Career Highlights
- Marsha P. Johnson was successfully able to come out as a gay, as a transvestite, and as a queen(referring to drag queen) when he started his professional career. Her style of drag was not too serious because of a lack of money and being unable to purchase expensive clothing.
- Johnson received leftover flowers after sleeping under tables which he used and was known for wearing crowns of fresh flowers.
- Johnson sang and performed as a member of J. Camicias’ international, NYC-based, drag performance troupe, “Hot Peaches”, from 1972 till 1990. Johnson even performed in London with the group in 1990.
- Johnson also became an AIDS activist and appeared in The Hot Peaches production “The Heat” in 1990, singing the song “Love”, where he wore an ACT UP, “Silence = Death” button.
- In 1973, Johnson performed the role of “The Gypsy Queen” in the Angels’ production, “The Enchanted Miracle”.
- In 1975, Johnson was photographed by famed artist Andy Warhol, as part of a “Ladies and Gentlemen” series of Polaroids.
- Johnson was one of the first drag queens to go to the Stonewall Inn.
- Johnson had been named, along with Zazu Nova and Jackie Hormona, as the 3 individuals to have been in the vanguard of the pushback against the police at the uprising. However, she also confirmed not being present at the Stonewall Inn when the rioting broke out.
- Following the Stonewall uprising, Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Front and participated in the first Christopher Street Liberation Pride rally on the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1970.
- In 1970, Johnson did the most notable direct actions, protesting at Weinstein Hall after administrators canceled a dance when they found out was sponsored by gay organizations.
- Shortly after, Johnson and her close friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries”(STAR) organization the same year.
- In 1973, Johnson and Rivera were banned from participating in the gay pride parade by the gay and lesbian committee.
- Johnson was also sentenced to 90 days of prison after she hit police officers in New York when same-sex marriage was illegal in the United States.
- Along with her friend, Rivera, Johnson established the STAR House, a shelter for gay and trans street kids in 1972. They even paid the rent for it with money they made themselves as a sex worker.
- By 1966, Johnson lived on the streets and engaged in survival sex and was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.
Honors and Tributes
- Johnson’s character is still practiced in two fictional film dramas that are based on real events, including “Stonewall”(2015) and “Happy Birthday, Marsha!”(2016).
- Following the murder of Johnson, documentary “Pay It No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson” featuring segments from Johnson’s 1992 interview was released in 2012 and another documentary, “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” were released in 2017.
- New York City artist Anohni produced multiple tributes to Johnson with her baroque pop band, “Antony and the Johnsons” named in honor of Johnson.
- In June 2019, Johnson was one of the inaugural fifty Americans(pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes) inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM).
- On February 1, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced of renaming the East River Park in Brooklyn in Johnson’s honor, which will be the first New York state park named after an LGBT person.
- On June 30, 2020, Google celebrated Marsha P. Johnson with a Google Doodle.
- Johnson and Sylvia Rivera would be honored with monuments at Greenwich Village in 2021.