A Month of Our LGBTQ+ Heroes: Marsha P. Johnson, advocate and visionary

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One of my favorite things when it comes to dating is holding hands. That moment where you aren’t sure if he’s going to interlace his fingers or if he’s going to pull away. Should I leave my hand “available” for him to grab, or should I be more direct and just go for his hand so he knows that I’m interested? These were the questions that would race through my head on a date as I first get to know a guy and begin to feel those butterflies in my stomach. Today, I have the privilege of freely walking down the streets of New York Ccity hand in hand with my boyfriend as we head to a show or to meet up with friends (while now due to COVID-19 that is not quite the case). But it is never far from my mind that this was not always the case in New York City, and is still not the case in many parts of the world.

My ability to do that freely was made possible by many people, but one name can never be forgotten, Marsha P. Johnson, “the mayor of Christopher Street”. Born on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a family who was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Marsha Johnson, as many queer children do, suffered from bullying for her self-expression. Johnson’s own mother described being homosexual as “lower than a dog.” This kind of upbringing created a world for Johnson where the idea of being gay was “some sort of dream rather than something that seemed possible.” Ultimately the pursuit of this dream was put on hold for her until she moved to New York City at age 17.

Known for many reasons, Johnson was a gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen, and an outspoken advocate for gay rights. When questioned about gender, Johnson would refer to the “P.” initial in her name, saying “pay it no mind.” Many people who were interviewed about the Stonewall uprising of 1969 speak to Johnson being a key player, along with Zazu Nova and Jackie Hormona, in the response to the police. On top of all of this, Johnson was known as a founding member of Gay Liberation Front, co-founder of the gay and transgender advocacy organization S.T.A.R., and an AIDS activist with ACT UP.

It is impossible to be living in our world today where Black lives are being taken from us on a daily basis because of police brutality, and protests rising up in the streets screaming for their voices to be heard when racist beliefs and ideologies still want to keep them silent, and not think of how Marsha was fighting this fight over 50 years ago. People like Marsha P. Johnson fought back in a moment of extreme prejudice toward the Black and LGBTQ+ community so I could have the freedom to wave a rainbow flag, or walk in the city with my boyfriend and not be stopped by the police when he pulls me in for a kiss.

A series of riots is what began the journey to the freedoms and rights I have today to one day marry the man I love or to start a family if we want. I will never forget the courage it took for Marsha to live a life authentically the way she was meant to in a time where our society wasn’t welcoming of anyone who didn’t represent the status quo. For Marsha, being gay was just “some sort of dream,” But for me that dream is very much a reality, and I will forever be thankful for the LGBTQ+ heroes who made that possible. I want to acknowledge how thankful I am for the life of Marsha P. Johnson as a Black trans trailblazer who fought for the freedoms that I get to carry with me everyday, freely holding the hand of the man I love.

 


 

The 14th Street Y invites you to tune into our PRIDE 365: Live Free, Love Fierce series, a virtual event series celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community.

We want to honor the LGBTQIA+ community and welcome them to our virtual community center where they can celebrate who they are loud and proud. At the 14th Street Y and Educational Alliance, everyone is welcome here.

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