Who Is Marsha P. Johnson?: What to Know About the LGBTQIA+ Activist

Who Is Marsha P. Johnson? 6 Shocking Facts About the Queen Who Helped Spark the LGBTQIA+ Revolution

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In the wake of Pride Month, you may be wondering…who is Marsha P. Johnson? Before the heavy headlines and heroic hashtags, there was a Black transwoman with enough might to spark an entire movement.

Hailing from Elizabeth, New Jersey, queer trailblazer Marsha P. Johnson’s audacious actions within the LGBTQIA+ community prompted rainbow rallies and gave a voice to others. She was a liberated and legendary multi-hyphenate who stopped at nothing in her fight to build social pathways to gay equality.

As a frontline activist, Johnson wasn’t afraid to walk in her truth and despite legal laws and political adversities, the Hot Peaches actress/singer remained steadfast in her advocacy.

Marsha P. Johnson’s Rise to Worldwide Prominence

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On, June 28. 1969, mayhem struck the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, when a police raid ended with clubgoers rebelling against authorities. Fed up, Johnson, along with others, stood their ground.

There have been various accounts of the event throughout the year and it was initially believed Johnson was responsible for the eruption after allegedly shattering a mirror with a shot glass. However, in a 1987 interview with journalist Eric Marcus, she recalled that the excitement began well before she arrived.

Following the Stonewall uprising, numerous other revolts occurred, which served as monumental moments within queer history.

Who Is Marsha P. Johnson — Things You Should Know

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She Expressed Her Gender Identity at a Young Age

Reportedly, Johnson began wearing dresses at age five. However, her display of femininity wasn’t accepted by children in her area, which pushed her to stop. Johnson also revealed that, as a child, she was sexually assaulted by a thirteen-year-old boy.

Her Name Had a Catchy Meaning

She originally went by “Black Marsha” but later axed “Black” and added “P. Johnson.” The “P” in her moniker was based on her motto, “Pay It No Mind.” “Johnson” came from the Howard Johnson restaurant chain.

She Often Did Sex Work to Get By

With less than $20 to her name, Johnson moved to New York City when she was seventeen. Aside from waiting tables and participating in drag shows, she did sex work. As a result, she often experienced abuse from customers and arrests.

She Co-Founded an LGBTQIA+ Organization  

The Stonewall debacle launched the first Gay Pride Parade in 1970 and other initiatives for LGBTQIA+ rights. But, Johnson still felt that transgender and people of color lacked resources. She and her protege, fellow activist Sylvia Rivera, started STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a street collective that offered shelter for sex workers.

She Modeled for Andy Warhol

In 1975, visual artist Andy Warhol photographed Johnson in the illustrious portrait series, “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Warhol was commissioned by Italian art dealer Luciano Anselmino who wanted Warhol to use transgender people as inspiration for the piece.

She Suffered Mental Health Issues

Johnson described having a mental breakdown in 1970 and spent time in and out of psychiatric wards, where she was treated for the episodes.

She Advocated for HIV/AIDS Survivors

In 1990, Johnson was diagnosed with HIV. After being a caregiver for friends with the disease, she joined ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in their mission to end the pandemic.

Unfortunately, Johnson died under suspicious circumstances when her body was found floating in the Hudson River in 1992. At the time of the discovery, police ruled it as a suicide, even though Johnson’s loved ones insisted otherwise.

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