In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve been spending all of March celebrating the accomplishments of badass ladies from throughout history. Today, in honor of #throwbackthursday we’d like to highlight our ultimate historical girl crush: Marsha P. Johnson.
Whenever anyone asked Marsha what the “P” in her name stood for, she answered, “Pay it no mind.” That catchphrase—which also served as her way of telling lookie-loos that her gender was none of their damn business—was the embodiment of the DGAF attitude with which she lived her life. One of New York City’s best-known street queens, Marsha was a leader of the Manhattan queer community in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She was an iconic woman who oscillated effortlessly between the realms of art and politics: in 1970, she cofounded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (or STAR for short) with Sylvia Rivera; just four years later, she was posing for Andy Warhol.
But Marsha’s most significant accomplishment might have been her role in instigating the 1969 Stonewall riots. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was nearly impossible to be LGBTQ in public. Not only were homosexuality and cross-dressing literally outlawed, but most places of business would refuse to admit anyone who was visibly gay or trans. As a matter of fact, most gay bars—including the Stonewall Inn—were owned by members of the Mafia, who routinely paid off policemen in order to remain in business. As part of this pay-off system, the police would tip off employees when a raid was scheduled to occur. But no one at Stonewall was expecting a raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, when the police showed up and quickly barricaded the doors.
Rumor has it that the raid soon gave way to the “shot glass heard round the world”: as the police gathered steam, Marsha threw a shot glass at a mirror and shouted “I got my civil rights!” Whether this happened or not, it’s true that the raid quickly dissolved into chaos as bar patrons refused to participate in any of the standard procedures. Police began to lead everyone outside, but people refused to leave the scene, and as West Village residents and bystanders joined the crowd gathering in the street outside Stonewall it swelled to ten times its original size. At last, as the police tried to load a butch lesbian named Stormé DeLarverie into a paddy-wagon, she shouted: “Why don’t you guys do something?” It was then that the standoff escalated into a full-blown riot—with Marsha P. Johnson on the front lines.
In 1992, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. Her death was officially ruled a suicide, but people in the community suspected foul play and called upon the NYPD to investigate properly. Despite the yearlong advocacy efforts of friends and community advocates, however, the police refused to look into the circumstances of her death—until 2012, when at last the NYPD reclassified the cause of death as “unknown” and agreed to reopen the case.
In the years to come, we hope that Marsha P. Johnson will receive the justice she deserves—and we hope her story continues to inspire little trans girls across the country, if not the world. Thank you for everything you did for us, Marsha!