Showing posts with label marsha p johnson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marsha p johnson. Show all posts

Friday, December 29, 2017

Damn, Girl-Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is the iconic LGBT activist. She's best known for playing an instrumental role Stonewall Riots, but Marsha's story extends beyond Stonewall. Throughout her lifetime, Marsha fought for the rights of African-American Transgender people, and provided food and shelter to transgender youth living on the streets.

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Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the 'P' in her name
stood for, Marsha often replied that it stood for 'Pay it
no mind'.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village in 1966. At the time, Greenwich Village was a hotbed of activism and liberal thinking. The Village hosted a large community of LGBT people, and provided places for them to gather without fear of violence or judgement.

Unfortunately, Marsha had a difficult time finding a stable source of income or accommodations in the Village, and often lived on the streets, and had to resort to prostitution to provide for herself. It was while working on the streets where she became a member of New York's large society of drag queens, and met lifelong friend and co-legend Sylvia Rivera.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Marsha began performing in drag shows and at drag balls. She was quite popular, and went on to tour the United States and the rest of the world with the popular drag group, the Hot Peaches.

In 1969 Marsha was having a drink at the Stonewall Inn, a popular drinking spot for transwomen, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless LGBT youth. The police raided the inn, and Marsha famously threw a shot glass, and shouted 'I got my civil rights!', igniting the famous riot that would last for six days.

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Marsha was asked to pose for Andy Warhol's
'Ladies and Gentlemen' series, which was a
series of pop art portraits of transgender
individuals living in New York City.
Following Stonewall, Marsha, along with Sylvia Rivera, became a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front, and started actively lobbying for trans rights. Then, as now, much of the gay rights movement was centered around securing rights for white gay men. Marsha and Sylvia were both the loudest voices calling for inclusion of transgender people in the gay community.

To this end, Marsha and Sylvia created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)¹. STAR was devoted to providing food and shelter for homeless transgender youth, especially transgender youth of color. Though STAR was chronically underfunded, Marsha created a home for people pushed to the margins of society, and acted as a mother to the people she helped. Though STAR was forced to close down in the 1970s, the legacy of STAR is being carried on by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

In 1992, Marsha's body was pulled from the Hudson river. The NYPD detectives ruled her death a suicide, but her friends and family claim that she was not suicidal. It is much more likely that she was murdered, as she was seen being harassed by men earlier in the day.

Today Marsha is seen as one of the founders of the gay rights movement. She's an icon of resistance, and her memory is frequently invoked whenever resistance is needed. There has been a renewed interest in her life in the past decade, leading to several biographies being published, and multiple documentaries.

¹Just a note, the word 'Transvestite' while now considered a slur, was the common name for transgender people at the time of STAR.

The Unsung Heroines of Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Marsha P. Johnson-Activist (1945-1992)
Marsha 'Pay It No Mind' Johnson
Power to the People: Exploring Marsha P. Johnson's Queer Liberation

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Loud and Proud-Origin of LGBT Pride Parade

Image result for lgbt flagI think I may have mentioned it before, but in case you haven't picked up on it, I'm gay. And unless you've been nestled under a rock, you're probably aware that June is LGBT Pride Month. It's the month of rainbow colored everything, and the month where the community gets together to celebrate the fact that, despite thousands of years of systematic oppression, we're still here. It's a month to celebrate the many advances we've made in the civil rights departments, and a month to remember our dead-- the many, many gay and bisexual men that died in the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s, the victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando exactly a year ago yesterday, (June 12, 2016, for those who are unaware.) as well as the many, many LGBT people who die from hate related violence each year all around the world.
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The first NY Pride in 1970

And while today's Pride Parades are a (generally) upbeat festival of love and rainbows, the first pride parade in 1970 was in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, an event that could not be described as upbeat or festive.

The Stonewall Inn in New York City was one of the few establishments in the late 60s that catered to (or even allowed) LGBT people. At the time, it was illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals. It was also illegal for men to be dancing together, and for women to be wearing less than three pieces of feminine clothing. Stonewall Inn was a place for LGBT people to gather, and they paid the police to look the other way. On June 28, 1969 the police stopped looking the other way.

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Marsha P. Johnson
On that day New York's 'finest' raided the inn, arresting every patron. The arrest turned into a full blown riot when Marsha P. Johnson, an African American drag queen from New Jersey, threw a shot-glass at the wall and shouted 'I got my civil rights!'. Another woman who was also being arrested asked those standing by if they were going to do anything. Soon the crowd was throwing things at the police, and broke into a riot that would last for six days.

This riot was the turning point for the LGBT community. Their passive resistance tactics weren't working, so a group of prominent activists decided to hold a march one year from the Stonewall riots to commemorate the event, and to remind the world that homosexuals existed.

This first march wasn't really much of a parade, it was a serious political protest. The corresponding marches in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco were much the same. As time went on, the parades grew to be more festive, until the 80s.
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London Pride, 1977
Now this may come as a shock (by which I mean it should be no shock at all), the 80s were hard on the LGBT community. Thousands of gay and bisexual men died from a disease that the US government didn't start to take seriously until it was too late. Pride was a solemn occasion, and the numbers of participants dwindled. Pride was part of a desperate attempt to remind American politicians that LGBT people were still there, and that they were dying in droves.

To this day, a large part of Pride is still protest. There is a more festive atmosphere, but politics is always at the core, and, unless there is some major world wide change in store, it most likely always will be.

Washington Post

CNN has some excellent pictures of some of the first Pride Parades here.