June is Pride Month, when the LGBTQIA2S+ community comes together to celebrate the freedom to be themselves. Pride as we know is a time to join events, concerts and parades, but it’s also important to take a minute and remember those who make this possible. And we need to be talking about Marsha P. Johnson.
In this blog, you’ll learn:
What was happening in the 60s in New York.
The 1960, and the preceding decades, were not welcoming times for anyone in the LGBT community. People were constantly being harassed for being part of the community, same-sex relations were illegal, and gatherings of homossexuals were considered disorderly.
Many people went to gay bars and clubs, places where they could be themselves and socialize without worry. Some of these bars were penalized and shut down for serving alcohol to known or suspected LGBTQ+ people. In 1966 these regulations changed and alcohol started being served, but engaging in same sex behaviour (holding hands, kissing, dancing…) was still illegal, so police harassment of gay bars was still happening.
Stonewall Inn was a famous gay bar in New York City.
In 1969, one of the gay bars police raided was the Stonewall Inn. The police officers entered the club, roughed up patrons, and arrested 13 people, including employees and people who were violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute (female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex).
Constant police harassment and social discrimination led patrons and neighbourhood residents to start a riot in the early-morning of June 28, 1969. This riot is considered by many the spark to the modern LGBT rights movement and a symbol of resistance to the social and political discrimination faced by the community and enforced by the police.
In 2016, Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park and surrounding areas as a national monument in recognition of the gay rights.
One of the rioters who burst into the streets was Marsha P. Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson was a black transwoman, sex worker, and drag queen who played a vital role in the Stonewall riots and the gay rights movement. Johnson was often overlooked and cast out of mainstream LGBT because of her gender identity, race, HIV+ status, and occupation as a sex worked. During their lifetime, Marsha suffered many abuses that can be linked to her position as a black transwoman.
Marsha P. Johnson, alongside with Sylvia Rivera, was a frequent organizer and participant at gay right protests. Together they founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and opened a house to shelter homeless LGBT youth. This shelter was the first of its kind in the United States. Their pride events were a protest against the woeful conditions that impacted the LGBT community.
Marsha died at 46 and her dead remains unsolved. For more information, please check the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
We also recommend that you watch the documentary Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson on Netflix.