Malcolm Michaels, Jr. aka. Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American self-identified gay man and drag queen who advocated for “trans rights” in New York City’s gay scene from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Malcolm Michaels, Jr. was born on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Johnson experienced a difficult childhood due to her Christian upbringing.
He engaged in cross-dressing behavior at an early age but was quickly reprimanded. Johnson moved to Greenwich Village in New York City after graduating from high school. In New York, he struggled to make ends meet. He was homeless and prostituted himself and engaged in petty theft to make ends meet. However, he found joy as a drag queen amidst the nightlife of Christopher Street. And Marsha Johnson was born. He designed all of his costumes (mostly from thrift shops) and quickly became a prominent fixture in the gay community serving as a “drag mother” by helping homeless and struggling LGBT youth.
One of the city’s oldest and best-known “drag queens”, (which is what Marsha proudly referred to herself as) Johnson participated in clashes with the police amid the Stonewall Riots along with her friend Sylvia Rivera and hundreds of others. (After wrongly being credited 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 its 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 youths 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 Polaroids 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 Johnson’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’s 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 Johnson was murdered.
Marsha P. Johnson was an original, an activist, and a martyr.
May he be at peace and never be forgotten and finally be remembered correctly
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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