NAN Celebrates Black History, Honoring Marsha P. Johnson

Every day during Black History Month, we will honor chapter leaders, advocates, and partners who are shaping Black History now.

(February 13th, 2021) — Today we honor Marsha P. Johnson.

Marsha P. Johnson (August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992), born and known as Malcolm Michaels Jr was a Black liberation activist and self-identified drag queen. An unapologetic and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 at the age of 23. Marsha went by “Black Marsha” before settling on Marsha P. Johnson. The “P” stood for “Pay It No Mind,” which Marsha would say in response to questions about her gender. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.), with Sylvia Rivera.

Johnson was also a popular figure in New York City’s gay and art scene, modeling for Andy Warhol and performing onstage with Hot Peaches’ drag performance troupe. Johnson was known as the “mayor of Christopher Street” in part because of her outreach and activism to homeless members of our community. Johnson was a tireless advocate for AIDS patients.

Her death in 1992 (aged 46), went largely unreported by the mainstream press. Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River, with the NYC police ruling it suicide – but her friends and fellow activists have always shared disbelief toward the ruling. Since then, there has been growing recognition for her invaluable contributions to the causes of social and economic justice.

Being black, poor, gay, and gender-nonconforming, Johnson knew more than most knew what it meant to be marginalized. Her passion, hope and perseverance in the face of such oppression is why her story resonates to this day, when many of the battles she fought are not yet won. Support LGBTQ+ organization such as NBJC and HRC today.