African American History Black History Month

Feb 7: Marsha P. Johnson

by Victoria Geiser

Marsha P. Johnson
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Marsha P. Johnson was a woman who profoundly affected not only the black community, but the LGBTQ community as well. As a black, transgender woman who worked as a drag performer as well as a sex worker, it is clear to say that she was a voice for those who needed it. She was an integral part of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, where protesters stood up against unjust police brutality and harassment in Greenwich Village in New York. One year later, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera became leaders of the first gay pride parade. By using their newly acquired power, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) group was founded, and worked to offer housing to homeless and transgender youth. Unfortunately, speaking up for groups that aren’t looked upon positively by (white) society had put a target on her back, and in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River. However, the efforts made by Marsha P. Johnson have not gone unrecognized. She spoke up against injustice toward marginalized groups, focusing on the intersectionality of black, LGBT people. While both the black community and the LGBTQ community face their own discrimination, there is a greater deal for those who fall into both of those categories, and Marsha P. Johnson fought for the rights of all.

The reason I was interested in Marsha P. Johnson is because of her involvement within the LGBTQ community; I personally have never been to a Pride celebration, but I am well aware of her part in the creation of such a tradition. At first, I wasn’t sure who to write about because I wanted to choose someone that isn’t commonly talked about. While I have heard of Marsha P. Johnson before, I feel as if I am only familiar with her name due to the Stonewall Riots and Pride.

I feel that someone who isn’t heavily involved with LGBT matters would not be aware of her existence. Because I take pride in my sexuality, I thought she was a great person to highlight her importance in my own life.I believe that Marsha P. Johnson is definitely an important figure to discuss during Black History Month because first, she’s black, and furthermore, she was so much more than that. She broke many barriers and was part of so many “controversial” niches. Being a transgender woman who regularly participated in drag performances and was a sex worker, she was not unfamiliar to scrutiny. I think she would be a good person to consider a role model, due to how many different marginalized groups she was a voice for.

Relating back to what has been discussed in class, I think it is necessary to note that once again history is not created in a vacuum. A large percentage, if not all, of the main efforts made by Marsha P. Johnson were in response to injustice being carried out against black and gay people. The Stonewall Riots took place in response to a gay bar being shut down, which was unnecessary and discriminatory. She also spoke up against police brutality and harassment that was occurring at the time. None of the events randomly sprung up, there was a great deal of discrimination taking place that lead to someone taking action, thus effectively creating a name for themselves.