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Video: 32 Facts on Marsha P. Johnson and her activism for Trans Rights/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel

A major name in the LGBTQ community is Marsha P. Johnson. What exactly did she do? More like what didn’t she do! June is Pride Month, a month to celebrate the LGBTQ community and the victories, and a time to recognize the ways our world can still progress in terms of equality. Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American transgender woman, who was a prominent figure of the 1960s and 1970s and best known for her activism at the Stonewall protests. Marsha was a trans-rights activist who was very active in the LGBTQ community, and as Black Lives Matter protests continue on strong, the world is remembering Marsha for her amazing work in the gay community, and how she shaped the movement in those crucial years.

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1. From NJ to NYC

On August 24, 1945, Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey as Malcolm Michaels Jr. Growing up in a stricter home where expressing her true self often proved difficult, Johnson made the move from Elizabeth to Greenwich Village in New York City at age 21.

2. The Origin Of Her Name – MARSHA P. JOHNSON

After moving to New York City, Johnson began living as her true, free self. Known as Black Marsha for a while, Marsha settled on Marsha P. Johnson. The P stood for “Pay It No Mind” and Johnson came from a restaurant she frequented, Howard Johnson’s. 

3. Pay It No Mind!

The saying which helped Marsha declare her name was actually a phrase the activist used constantly. Friends have said that when people questioned her gender or her ideas on gender identity, she would simply quip back, “Pay it no mind!”

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4. From A Young Age

Marsha never really doubted her identity. She said from the young age of five, she knew she identified as female, and began dressing as such. Transgender was not a widely used term during Marsha’s popularity, but friends say she always referred to herself in she/her pronouns and often just called herself a queen. She is the ultimate queen!

5. Making Ends Meet

Upon her arrival to NYC, it was said that Marsha only had a bag of clothes and $15 to her name. To make ends meet, Marsha began to take part in prostitution and was even arrested a couple of times.

6. Marsha P. Johnson’s Life In Drag

Marsha struggled in the beginning of her time in NYC, but ultimately she found her true joy as a drag queen in the eccentric nightlife of Christopher Street. She began designing her own costumes, mostly threads coming from thrift shops. From starting out all by herself, Marsha grew into her role in the night life of drag and became the ‘drag mother’ to other LGBTQ youth struggling to make a life in NYC. She ended up making a successful career of it and toured with the Hot Peaches. 

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7. The Performance Bug

Marsha was pretty much born to perform. She took up with Hot Peaches, a drag group that performed all over. She started performing with the group, and in 1990 she even performed with the Hot Peaches in London! 

8. Her Nickname

As Marsha’s prominence in the community grew, she also grew herself a bit of a fan base. She garnered the nickname “Saint of Christopher Street,” because she was mostly known for her saint-like generosity, especially towards the youth in the LGBTQ community, who she often sought out to help.

9. Marsha’s Style

Marsha was unable to afford ‘real drag clothing.’ She often thrifted and made her own clothes, but despite not being able to afford designer labels, Marsha was always adorned with flowers and gems and bright makeup. She never failed to brighten up whatever space she was in.

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10. The Much Needed Leader – Marsha P. Johnson

In 1969 when Marsha was 23, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a prominent gay bar in the city. The NYPD forced over 200 people to leave the bar, and proceeded to get violent with them. Marsha was an extremely important figure during this time, for in the coming days, she would be a lead organizer of marches in support of the LGBTQ community in what is now known as the Stonewall Uprising. 

11. Activist At Heart

In 1970, Marsha and her good friend Sylvia Rivera founded STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. STAR was built as an organization to provide support to those within the LGBTQ community that were homeless, as many youths in the community were getting kicked out of their homes at the time.

12. The STAR House started by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Marsha and Sylvia founded the STAR house, and were committed to their work with gay youth. NSWP reported that, “STAR opened their first STAR House in a parked trailer truck in a Greenwich Village parking lot later that year. It functioned as a shelter and social space for trans sex workers and other LGBT street youth.” 

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13. The Gay Liberation Front

After the events at Stonewall, Marsha helped found the Gay Liberation Front, an organization that sought justice and helped protect the lives of those within the LGBTQ community and the inequalities they face.


14. Fashion Icon Marsha P. Johnson 

Marsha was known for having a larger than life style which many admired. Andy Warhol admired her sense of self so much he decided to feature Marsha in the 1975 screen print, “Ladies and Gentleman,” a series of polaroids and portraits of prominent transgender and drag queen figures.

15. Leading Lady

In 1980, after ten years of standing up against the police brutality she and so many others faced, Marsha was invited to ride in the lead car of New York City’s annual Gay Pride Parade. It was a solidifying moment for transgender lives everywhere, and especially those involved in the Stonewall Uprising.

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16. Her Goal 

In an interview for a book in the 1970s, Marsha stated that her ultimate goal with being involved so heavily with LGBTQ rights was “to see gay people liberated and free and to have equal rights that other people have in America,” with her “gay brothers and sisters out of jail and on the streets again.”

17. The Sass And Beauty That Carried Her Through Life

Marsha was known in the community for being bold, stylish, and a role model for so many other young transgender people living in the city. Marsha’s life in drag was really what put her on the map and made her feel most at home. In an interview she once said, “I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville until I became a drag queen. That’s what made me in New York, that’s what made me in New Jersey, that’s what made me in the world.”

18. Still Excluded

Despite her amazing work within the LGBTQ community, when the first Pride Marches in NYC started, Johnson and other drag queens were actually banned from marching. Organizers had it in their mind that drag queens gave the community a bad reputation. However, Marsha was never one to back down and she continued to organize her own marches and movements that were all-inclusive. 

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19. HIV-Positive Diagnosis

In a 1992 interview, Marsha revealed that she tested positive for HIV two years earlier in 1990. In the interview, she said, “They call me a legend in my own time, because there were so many queens gone that I’m one of the few queens left from the ’70s and the ’80s.” A positive HIV diagnosis was the sad reality for so many in the community at the time, as it was just first emerging in the 80s. 

20. Marsha P. Johnson Struggled With Mental Health

Although she had a can-do attitude and a heart for standing up to non-believers, Marsha also struggled with her mental health greatly. In 1970, she had the first breakdown in what she described as a string of many breakdowns. After that, Marsha was in and out of psychiatric institutions to get help.

21. AIDS Activist

Before her own diagnosis, Marsha was an AIDS activist. She regularly attended protests and meetings organized by ACT UP, an organization fighting for the end of the AIDS crisis.

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22. Religious Upbringing

As a child, Marsha attended Mount Teman African Methodist Episcopal Church, and as the years went by, Marsha was drawn to Catholicism and frequently visited houses of worship and was intrigued by many other faiths.

23. A Deeper Look – Marsha P. Johnson Film on Netflix 

In 2017, Netflix released The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by David France. The Netflix film dives deeper into the ways in which Marsha started a revolution for gay and trans rights, and why her mysterious death deserves a deeper look. It’s an incredibly moving film that is all too reminiscent of the state of our world now.

24. The Sad And Mysterious Death of Marsha

In 1992 at age 46, Marsha’s body was found in the Hudson River after being reported missing for 6 days. Police ruled her death a suicide, but Marsha’s close friends were quick to question the ruling. None of her friends believed Marsha to be suicidal, and demanded that the police investigate further.  

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25. The Reopening 

After years of pleading, the New York City Police decided to reopen Marsha’s case in 2012. For now her cause of death is ruled as ‘undetermined,’ and the case remains open to this day. 

26. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute 

The Marsha P. Johnson Institute was founded in Marsha’s honor to help uplift and nourish the lives of Black trans people. The MPJI is motivated by Marsha’s story and all she did for the fight in the LGBTQ community. They organize community for Black trans lives to heal and flourish in the name of racial and gender justice. 

27. A Fighter Forever 

Marsha never backed down from the fight for trans justice. She was quoted saying, “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.”

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28. The Marsha P. Johnson State Park

On February 1, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo renamed the East River State Park to become the Marsha P. Johnson State Park. The park stretches along the East River in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is the first park in the history of New York to be named after someone of the LGBTQ community. 

29. Marsha Saved Lives

Marsha’s good friend Sylvia Rivera has praised Marsha not only for her activism but for also saving her own life. At the New York City Pride March of 1973, Rivera was blocked from speaking and eventually booed off the stage after declaring that the drag queen was the reason for the gay liberation movement. After the incident Rivera attempted suicide, but states that Marsha found her and saved her life. 

30. The Documentary 

In 2012, Michael Kasino directed the documentary, Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson, a tribute to Marsha’s life which includes archive interview footage of her. Marsha speaks on her activism and what led her to it, and friends also remember Marsha and what she started for trans rights. 

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31. The Marsha Monument 

In 2019, it was announced by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray that the city would unveil the next She Built NYC monument as a monument in honor of activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. First Lady McCray said, “Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are undeniably two of the most important foremothers of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, yet their stories have been erased from a history they helped create.” The monument is set to be unveiled in 2021 and is the city’s first-ever transgender monument.

32. A Voice For Liberation – Marsha P. Johnson

In the early 1970s, Marsha and a group were rallying for gay rights in Downtown New York City at City Hall. Diana Davies was photographing the group and a reporter asked Johnson why the group was marching. Johnson proceeded to shout into a microphone, “Darling, I want my gay rights now!” That quote would go on to be used for the many different generations of the LGBTQ communities as they continue to fight for their liberation and equality. 

We, at Hollywood Insider, will always cherish you Marsha P. Johnson for having the brightest courage to be your truest self in an environment that penalized people for simply loving and being. We can hear you even now saying “Pay It No Mind” to all the opposers of the Black Lives Matter movement. We will continue to pay it no mind to all the bigots. Marsha, you will always be one of our heroes. Thank you for everything you have done for the LGBTQ community and Trans rights. Thank you for dazzling us with all your colors. 

By Rebecca Breitfeller

Click here to read Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.

An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”

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