Marsha P. Johnson

Pride Profiles, June 2, 2020

In June 2020, I published one flash essay per day on Instagram, each a profile of a queer person who had personally influenced me. Some of these profiles are accompanied by the artwork of friends.

“195a.Night.WestVillage.NYC.28June2019” by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0⁣

The Stonewall Inn is very, very tiny by gay bar standards. By any standards, Marsha P. Johnson was not small. She was tall in her bare feet, but in plastic platform shoes, she towered. But more than that, her voice must have filled that small space and echoed against the low ceiling. She lived on the streets and subsided with sex work.⁣

“I don’t bite my tongue for nobody.”⁣

Johnson has been described as the spark that started the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York. As police raided the bar, Johnson reportedly threw her shot glass against a mirror and shouted, “I got my civil rights!” (This account has been disputed.) She is known as part of the vanguard that activated against police brutality throughout the week that followed.⁣

“We believe in picking up the gun, starting a revolution if necessary.”⁣

Three years later, Johnson opened a shelter for LGBTQ kids, and in the 80s, she joined ACT UP, advocating in the streets for better research and resources for those with HIV/AIDS. She was angry, funny, charming, vicious. Warhol photographed her. Her name was hers: Marsha because she liked it, P for “pay it no mind,” and Johnson for a Howard Johnson’s she liked to visit. She was dogged but not unstoppable.⁣

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”⁣

On July 6, 1992, just days after New York’s infamous Gay Pride parade, Marsha P. Johnson’s body was found near the Christopher Street Piers, floating in the Hudson River. Cause of death: drowning from undetermined causes. The case is still unsolved.⁣

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