In honor of Black History Month, one of the earliest trans icons deserves to have her rightful place in history.
Back during an era where being trans or dressing in drag could lead you to being arrested, Marsha P. Johnson was hitting clubs owned by the mafia and partying anyway. At one such bar, that would become the scene of one of the greatest LGBT rebellions, was infamously known as Stonewall Inn.
According to the documentary “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”, now streaming on Netflix, despite the risk of being brutalized or arrested, Johnson allowed herself to come alive at Stonewall. Her future close friend, Sylvia Rivera, also frequented the bar and that is where their mother-daughter relationship blossomed.
(Pictured: Sylvia Rivera – Left, Marsha P. Johnson – Right)
It was this partnership that helped them fight back during a raid of Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969 in Greenwich Village. Marsha, Sylvia and many other LGBTQ patrons resisted the brutality that had been routinely exercised against them. A riot then broke out and they managed to spark a liberation. Marsha and Sylvia would later go on to not only advocate, but create a safe space for transgender & drag queens, including the youth, to live to protect them from the dangers of living homeless on the street. Their project, S.T.A.R or Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries, was a critical source of networks that provided resources to Black transgender women and drag queens, who have often had been left out of the gay liberation movement.
Despite the isolation from the gay marriage movement, where both trans women felt shunned and silenced by the community, they continued being at the forefront of equality for all human beings. Sylvia left the movement, but would later return to doing movement work for gay liberation before her unfortunate passing in the 2000s.
Unfortunately, Marsha P. Johnson was found floating in the Hudson River. Her death is still questioned to this day as to whether or not there was foul play involved or a simple accident. Throughout the documentary, using clues from decades ago, one trans women and close friend attempted to figure out what happened to Marsha. With little to no cooperation with the NYPD detectives who had worked the case that many years ago, and a body autopsy that simply suggested Marsha drowned by accident, few details were able to be uncovered about her untimely demise.