MARSHA P JOHNSON

The Results Are In: You ARE The Small Lights!

Happy Small Lights Friday! I am so excited and grateful for all of the amazing contest entries received over the past few weeks! I’m also very pleased to announce our winners. First and foremost, everyone who entered will receive assorted stickers, magnets, and twinkle lights! Our Second and Grand Prize Winners have been announced on my Instagram; head on over to see their shout outs! 

Small Lights has been focused on giving back and how to give back in ways that work. Today, I want to highlight someone with such a big story, they might not fall under the category of a Small Light. I know, I know – I’m breaking my own rules here – but in honor of Pride, I want to look at one of the brightest souls. Happy Pride!

MARSHA P JOHNSON

I’d like to take a moment to thank my dear friend Steve for introducing me to the Marsha P Johnson Foundation, which of course led me to Marsha P Johnson! Thanks, Steve! Marsha P Johnson self identified as gay, a transvestite, and a Drag Queen. (Let me point out that the term transgender was was not broadly used in her lifetime, and the term transvestite is considered derogatory today). I will be using she/her pronouns, as that is how she is identified within her foundation. It should be noted that Johnson did not consider herself transexual, which she defined as someone who was on hormones or having surgery (think of some of our transgender community members today). Johnson left a stunning imprint on Queer history. To understand her impact, you need to understand who she was.

The Mayor of Christopher Street 

That’s how Johnson was known to the locals in Greenwhich Village, New York, once she had staked her claim on the street. She was a welcome presence. She was an AIDS activist. Her Drag performances were comedic and political; she was a member of Hot Peaches, a Drag performance troupe. She was photographed by Andy Worhal. She was known for wearing crowns of fresh flowers.

Marsha P Johnson’s Drag was, according to her good friends, an artform. She didn’t have much money at all, and when she did get money it was usually quickly given to someone else who she thought needed it more. As a result, her outfits were plucked from thrift stores or received as gifts. Her Drag style was, in essence, what she could afford.

Pay it no Mind

While she was born Malcom Michaels Jr., Johnson took the moniker Marsha P Johnson. Her new surname was borrowed from a restaurant on 42nd St, Howard Johnson’s. The P stands for “Pay it No Mind.” I love this story: Apparently, Johnson had quipped this to a judge who found it amusing enough to let her off after one of more than 100 alleged arrests. This incredible and very cool sounding number, 100, is claimed by Johnson, who found herself in trouble with the law frequently for sex work. 

Regarding her treatment by the police, Marsha said that they treated her like she was one of the “worst murderers.” Being trans in 2021 is hard enough; being trans and black in the 80s and 90s was a completely different ballgame. “We thought of her as a patron saint,” said Sasha Mcaffrey, a friend of Marsha’s.

Johnson was arrested often for her sex work but she also had a different thorn in our governments’ side, one we can all relate to these days.

stonewall was a riot!

Marsha P Johnson is a recognized veteran of the Stonewall Uprising, the now well known riots that erupted spontaneously after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. In fact, even before the uprising, Johnson was one of the first patrons to show up in full Drag. The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and now national monument, is the birthplace of Pride. The Stonewall Riots is widely regarded as the biggest event in our country’s history regarding the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Any guesses to who started it? 

The shot glass heard round the world

“Pay It No Mind” documentary

According to those who were there, it was Marsha who was in the forefront. She shouted, “I got my civil rights!” and threw a shot glass into a mirror. One friend remembers it being coined as “the shot glass heard round the world.” If not for the Stonewall Riots, the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement would most certainly not be nearly as powerful or as progressive as it is today. Gay rights did not just happen. No one woke up and decided, hey, you know what? I’m not going to oppose gay rights anymore. I’ve changed my mind. That’s not how we work. Stonewall was a necessity, an imperative, a mandatory precursor for the fight that lay ahead. Without it, where would we be now? 

I GOT MY CIVIL RIGHTS!

Johnson was involved in far more than just Stonewall. She also founded STAR, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. It stands for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionary. And, I’m sorry, I just need to take a moment. That is an amazing acronym. How much relief one must have felt, having been kicked out of their homes for being gay only to find that there was someone like Marsha, ready to make you feel valid and loved. 

She marched in the first gay pride rally. She participated in sit ins fighting for gay rights. She joined the Gay Liberation Front and was an active member in The Drag Caucus.

She was a friend to everyone, she knew everyone, and was always there to help (unless she was servicing one of her ten day prison sentences – then you would need to wait ten days).

It was who she was, to be loud and out and just be Marsha. 

proud

Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River shortly after 1992’s Pride Parade. Despite fervent protests from family and friends who all insisted there was reason enough to suspect foul play, police ruled her death a suicide.

“Marsha paid the price for who she was.”

Michael Lynch, member of Hot Peaches 

On July 4th, Johnson was seen in an altercation with a neighboring resident. This resident was later seen at a bar bragging about having killed a drag queen named Marsha.

The police ignored this information, and no one was brought to justice. It would be 2 decades before the police were convinced to reopen the case as a possible homicide in November of 2012.

When you go outside today, or tomorrow, or any day, live your full truth. Celebrate you. And if anyone has anything to say about it? Pay it no mind.

Pay It No Mind Documentary

Donate to Marsha P Johnson Foundation

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