Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American self-identified gay male drag queen and trans activist in New York City’s gay scene from the 1960s to the 1990s.
One of the city’s oldest and best known “drag queens”, (which is what Marsha proudly referred to herself as) Marsha sometimes worked as a waitress, but usually she worked the streets. He was known for helping other drag and transvestites and street kids and was regarded as one of NYC’s original drag mothers.
Marsha participated in clashes with the police amid the Stonewall Riots along with her friend Sylvia Rivera (After wrongly being credited it for stating it.)) and both became co-founders, of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) in the early 1970s. Marsha and Sylvia became the mothers of S.T.A.R House and together gathered food and clothing to help support the young queens. Sometimes legally. Most times not.
STAR opened their first STAR House in a parked trailer truck in a Greenwich Village parking lot later that year. It functioned as a shelter and social space for drag/trans sex workers and other LGBT street youth. However, the pair arrived one day to find the trailer was being towed, with as many as 20 youth still sleeping inside. This experience made them decide to find a more permanent home for STAR House. “Marsha and I decided to get a building,” Rivera told Leslie Feinberg in 1998. “We were trying to get away from the Mafia’s control at the bars. We got a building at 213 Second Avenue.”
Marsha was one of a kind. Once, appearing in a court the judge asked Marsha, “What does the ‘P’ stand for?”, Johnson gave his customary response “Pay it No Mind.” and the judge laughed and let him go. This phrase became her trademark. In 1974 Marsha P. Johnson was photographed by famed artist Andy Warhol, as part of a “ladies and gentlemen” series of polaroid’s featuring drag queens.
Masha P. Johnson was as tough, crazy and as gritty as New York City itself. But as kind and as loving as any mother could be to her “children”
In July of 1992 that came to an abrupt end when Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers shortly after the 1992 Pride March. Police ruled the death a suicide. Johnson friends and supporters said she was not suicidal, and a people’s postering campaign later declared that Johnson had earlier been harassed near the spot where her body was found. Attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful but many today believe that Marsha was murdered.
Marsha P. Johnson was an original, an activist, and a martyr.
May he be at peace and never be forgotten.
Listen to Marsha P. Johnson Talk About the Stonewall Riots In Her Own Words – “We didn’t start the rebellion.” [RARE AUDIO]
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