The Legacy of Marsha P. Johnson

The Legacy of Marsha P. Johnson

Max Easterling


“The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson” Documentary on Netflix

GLSEN History Cards - Marsha P. Johnson: GLSEN Link

About Marsha P. Johnson -

Marsha P. Johnson article - Article from

Stonewall Riots -

First of all, happy Black History Month! Although this is how things should be year round, this month is dedicated to listening to Black stories, history, and educating ourselves on how we can use privilege to amplify Black voices. Since I am white, I really want to use my privilege to highlight the black voices of those who are no longer with us. The topics of this issue include black history and love, while magnifying the voices of a community I am not apart of, I can incorporate my own experiences to support the topics of this issue. Marsha P. Johnson has been almost completely forgotten throughout history and her story is not very well known. Marsha P. Johnson was a black transgender woman who was a major activist for gay rights. The P in between Marsha and Johnson stood for “pay it no mind,” which was her response when she was questioned about her gender.

Brought into this world on August 24, 1945, Marsha lived in a packed house, she was the fifth of seven children. Around the age of five, she decided to wear traditionally feminine clothing, and her father rebuked it. Marsha graduated from Thomas A. Edison High School in the class of 1963, and moved to New York shortly after. At this time, it was illegal for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be in bars or even express their love publically. However, the mafia ran a bar that members could come to so they had a place to hang out, this was known as the Stonewall Bar. On June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall was raided by the police. This was when the revolution began, and Marsha became one of the main faces of the movement. This raid was most definitely not the beginning of police harassment and the targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community in New York faced, but it was the tipping point, causing a riot at the Stonewall Inn.

People at the bar did not leave, they stood outside of the bar rather than disperse. A police officer hit a lesbian woman on the head while trying to throw her into a van, causing the crowd to become violent. Many people began barricading themselves in and around the bar. The mob attempted to set the bar on fire, and the fire department and a riot squad were able to wash away the fire and save people inside the bar, they were also successful in dispersing the crowd. This event catalyzed the gay rights movement.


“Darling, I want my gay rights now. I think it’s about time the gay brothers and sisters got their rights. And especially the women,” was a quote from Marsha Johnson during a protest for gay rights not long after the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riot did not just spark protests in New York, these protests took place all across the country in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Marsha along with her best friend Sylvia Lee Rivera were main leaders through all of these protests. In 1970, Marsha and Sylvia founded the STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). This was a place that transgender youth could go to get necessities such as food, clothing, and housing. In 1972, Marsha traveled around the country performing in drag shows with the group, Hot Peaches. She inspired many people all across the nation with her ability to continually push through boundaries, break gender norms, and stay positive through all the hate she endured. Her fight for gay rights continued throughout the next twenty years.


On July 6th, 1994, Marsha's body was found in the Hudson River. The police ruled Marsha’s death as a suicide right away, ignoring some signs of foul play. Because of this, many of Marsha’s good friends and other civilians got together to protest and ask the police to look further into her death. The documentary The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson on Netflix follows Victoria Cruz, who works for the New York Anti Violence Project to try to bring justice for Marsha. Victoria interviews many of Marsha’s friends and family to find more evidence and reason to open her case back up. According to Kitty, one of Marsha’s good friends, Marsha got into a car with some sketchy people on the night of July 4th. And, a man told Victoria he remembers seeing Marsha being followed down to the river on July 5th, the police did not put that in the report.

Marsha P. Johnson was an inspiration to so many people. She helped so many people feel more confident in who they were, and she had lots of responsibility in the gay rights movement and she is the reason that the LGBTQ+ community has some of the rights that we do today. In her 46 years of living, she did all that she could to protect, and make others feel safe.


The need to protect trans youth and especially black trans women is still very prevalent today, the life span for trans women of color is only about 35 years, this speaks volumes. This shows that just because Marsha faced transphobia 20 years ago, things have not changed. Trans individuals still face the fear of being harassed, fired from their job, kicked out of their home, or even being murdered simply because of who they are, we can not let this continue happening, and we need to do all that we can so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

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