Marsha P. Johnson

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Marsha P. Johnson (June 27, 1944 – July 6, 1992) was a Black American gay, transgender and AIDS activist. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Johnson was a popular figure in New York City's gay and art scene from the 1960s to the 1990s.

One of the city's best known drag queens, Johnson was a leader in clashes with the police amid the Stonewall Riots.[1][2] In the early 1970s, Johnson and close friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, and were a visible presence at gay liberation marches and other political actions. In the 1980s Johnson continued her street activism as a respected organizer and marshall with ACT-UP. With Rivera, Johnson was a "mother" of S.T.A.R. House, getting together food and clothing to help support the young drag queens and trans women living on the Christopher Street docks or in their house on the Lower East Side of New York.[3]

Once, appearing in a court the judge asked Marsha, "What does the 'P' stand for?", Johnson gave her customary response "Pay it No Mind." This phrase became her trademark. In 1974 Marsha P. Johnson was photographed by famed artist Andy Warhol, as part of a "ladies and gentlemen" series of polaroids featuring drag queens.[2] An interview with Marsha P. Johnson by gay activist Allen Young can be found in the book Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation, originally published in 1972 and available in a new edition from New York University Press.

In July 1992, Johnson's body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers shortly after the 1992 Pride March. Police ruled the death a suicide.[2] Johnson's friends and supporters said she was not suicidal, and a people's postering campaign later declared that Johnson had earlier been harassed near the spot where her body was found. Attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful. However, in November 2012, the New York police department re-opened the case as a possible homicide.

New York City baroque pop band Antony and the Johnsons was named in Johnson's honor,[3] and their eponymous 1998 album features a song called "River of Sorrow", which is inspired by her death.

A documentary called "Pay it No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson", directed by Michael Kasino and Richard Morrison, was released in 2012.[4]


  1. ^ Carter, David (2004). Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-20025-0. 
  2. ^ a b c Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996, p. 131. ISBN 0-8070-7941-3
  3. ^ a b "Marsha P. Johnson (1944 - 1992) Activist, Drag Mother." A Gender Variance Who's Who. May 2, 2009. Under Creative Commons License: Attribution
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

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