I'm a great supporter of women and I think the achievements of women and men should always be celebrated on an equal platform. I gain a lot of my inspiration from others and from the story of others, so for part of my blog I wanted to share the stories of and open up a discussion on such people.
Marsha P. Johnson is one of those people, a woman who overcame great adversity. Born Malcolm Michaels, Marsha was an African American woman born in New Jersey in August 1945. Marsha started working as a drag queen in New York in the 1960's at a time when homosexuality and any other sexuality outside of the nuclear ideal was being stamped out by the government.
Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P Johnson
At the time, mental institutions subjected LGBT individuals to experimental drugs, treatments and punishments and in general, society and other institutions, were subjecting Lgbt individuals to personal and public attacks, arson at venues where it was known to be LGBT friendly. Life was generally strained for the LGBT community, the stories of being disowned by loved ones and being sacked from your job due to your choice in lifestyle and partner was an all too common tale at the time and still is a problem in too many areas of the world.
Marsha had had her own personal struggles growing up and into her adulthood. She recounted in "Pay it no mind: The life and times of Marsha P. Johnson" that she started wearing dresses when she was five years old but had stopped herself for a period of time as neighbouring boys had tried to assault her and that she had been raped by a 13 year old boy.
In addition to this Marsha had spent time being homeless in her adult life and was known to couch or floor surf between friends or strangers. There were times where she slept in a movie theatre in New York just to have shelter. Through her own struggles in being an openly homosexual, black drag queen in the 1960's she was resilient in her mission to help young LGBT's who needed shelter, food, water, to know that someone cared, they were on someone's radar, and that they were safe.
Despite the struggles and strains of Marsha's time she was known by those close to her and not so close, as openly eccentric, colourful and beautiful. Her look was truly all her own. She had a distinctive voice and a loud personality; she demanded to be seen and heard but always made herself approachable to others and is remembered for the open door policy she had with everyone who came into contact with her.
"Nobody Promised You Tomorrow" Marsha P. Johnson
Stonewall was a bar that in the 1960's was a safe haven for those ostracised by society at the time and as a result had suffered random police raids, one such raid took place in June 1969 which led to the Stonewall Riots or Stonewall Rebellion- seen by many as a pinnacle moment in the LGBT rights movement. Marsha P. was reportedly there on the night in June and was an active participant in the following series of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community.
After the rioting had subsided, LGBT members faced many obstacles to becoming a recognised and accepted community and within 6 months of the riots two gay activist organisations and three newspapers promoting rights for LGBT members had been formed in New York.
She was one of the first drag queens to try and get food for other drag queens and members of the LGBT community. She was one of the team at "Alternate You" where they helped "College Queens" open their doors to the "Gay Liberation Front". She was one of the S.T.A.R's (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside Sylvia Riveria (another notable figure fighting for LGBT rights at the time) where they got an apartment in the lower east side and turned it into a shelter for transgender youth, which went down in history as one of the first.
Marsha P. suffered the first of many breakdowns in 1970, however, forever a fighter, and true to form she continued to strive to be a pioneer and inspiration for all.
In the 70's she had started working with the hot peaches on stage, which was renowned at the time for containing acts that "...pushed the edge, when there really was an edge to push". Marsha P. shone on stage, and was loved by her audience, her distinctive voice, fantastical dress and her seductive spirit captivated those who had the opportunity to see her in the flesh. She obliterated her songs, saying of her audience, "They like it better that way." which spoke to her wit and ability to read what her audience wanted and they were drawn to her as a result.
In June 1970, the first Gay Pride March took place, the organisers of the event had tried to ban transvestites from the march in 1978 due to the negative attitudes felt by some that "that" image lead to a negative portrayal of the LGBT community. In response to this Marsha P. and long time friend Sylvia Riveria walked ahead of the parade that year so they ended up leading the parade- the ban was soon lifted.
In her later years, Marsha was an advocate for those who have the HIV/AIDS virus, she herself had become victim to it and had watched a close friend of hers die from aids. Her experience of losing him continued to have a profound effect on her for the rest of her life and resulted in a break down soon after.
Marsha P. attended her last Gay Pride event in June 1992, after the event she disappeared, she was then found a few days later washed up in a river. Officially recorded as a suicide, some close to her believe that foul play was involved.
However she met her end, one thing is for sure, Marsha Pay it no mind Johnson was a woman who lived her life being who she wanted to be, took the rough with the smooth and never let her circumstance effect the love she felt and gave to those in the community she lived in. Women like her have been influential in the steps we have taken as a society. Although, many would argue that we still have a long way to go, we wouldn't have made it this far if it wasn't for women like Marsha P.
"We are all in this rat race together" Marsha P Johnson
Her legacy lives on in all people who are going through a difficult time (physically or emotionally), and are fighting and trying to survive it to get through to the other side empowered, learning and improved not just for ourselves but for all.
Marsha P. Johnson (1944-1992)