Marsha P. Johnson
"Pay it no mind!"
A fixture of Greenwich Village for years, Marsha P. Johnson was known as the "Saint of Christopher Street" jubilantly strolling around with a flower crown, asking for change and handing it off to those who she thought could use it more. She was herself poor, and assembled her drag outfits from Salvation Army and some careful tailoring. Her giving spirit earned her saintly moniker and made her beloved by the 1960s-1990s queer NY scene.
Having been born male, as Malcolm Michaels Jr., Johnson never identified as either completely male or female, preferring to transition freely between the two. Most comfortable as Marsha, she legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson in 1966,. The "P" stood for "Pay it no mind" referring to the #1 question people would ask: "Are you male or female?"
She was mocked for wearing dresses as a five year old and her mother called her "lower than a dog" but she found solace in the church. Throughout her whole life, Johnson was incredibly spiritual, finding comfort in religious practices. She would attend church, temple, and make offerings to Neptune by throwing things into the water.
Johnson was a beloved drag performer and photographed by Andy Warhol. Everyone in the downtown scene saw her as compassionate and joyous. In 1969, she was able to prove herself a leader at the Stonewall Riots.
As legend goes, Johnson threw "the shot glass heard 'round the world" when the police came to raid the lively gay bar, Stonewall Inn. At the time, New York was well aware of the downtown queer scene and set up a "Public Morals Squad" to target gay clubs, bars, and gathering places. Alledgely, Johnson threw a shot glass at a mirror, screaming "I got my civil rights!" and the Stonewall Riots ensued with her leading the charge.
The riots are considered the dawn of the LGBT movement, and Johnson was at the front lines of every parade and demonstration thereafter. With her friend Sylvia Rivera, she created STAR: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries which worked to unite Manhattan's LGBTQ community and advocate on behalf of homeless drag queens and runaways. Eventually they constructed a shelter, The Star House to help out the many non-gender conforming individuals living on the street, many of which because they were thrown out of their homes for expressing their true identities.
Marsha died at 46. Police ruled it a suicide but those close to her say it was most certainly not. Still, her legacy will live on. Because of her tireless efforts to lift up other non-conforming people, and her insistence on being herself, she has saved thousands of lives.
"I chose Marsha P Johnson because I wanted to represent someone who is less visible in history books but who played a significant role in fighting for equality. " -Carly Larsson
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