The life expectancy of a transgender woman of color is 31 years. Despite this frightening statistic Marsha P. Johnson devoted her life to fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights until her body was found in the Hudson River at the age of 46.
Born on Aug. 24, 1945 to a traditional Christian family, it is safe to assume that Johnson’s childhood was quite turbulent in terms of acceptance. When she would push the bounds of gender, she would be quickly reprimanded. This oppression did not stop Johnson from moving to New York to become a sex worker, drag queen, and model for the famous modern artist, Andy Warhol. She was such an open spirit that others in the queer community referred to her as their “drag mother.”
Her passion for the LGBTQIA+ community did not stop there, as she is noted as one of the instigators of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots occurred due to those who partook in the queer nightlife getting tired of routine, and seemingly pointless raids on gay bars These “police check-ins” in the 1950s and 1960s would often result in manhandling, harassment, and taking trans women into bathrooms to forcibly check their sex. This riot, which lasted six days, catalyzed the gay rights movement not just in the United States, but around the world, and it was all thanks to Marsha P. Johnson.
Johnson did not stop there. After the riots, she joined the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). The GLF made it their mission to improve some conditions for LGBTQIA+ citizens by eradicating homophobic laws. In June of 1970, the GLF held their first march in the heart of New York City. These marches, which Johnson helped organize, would eventually evolve in to what is now known as Pride.
In addition to her LGBTQIA+ activism, she also was an activist for the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP). Being HIV positive herself, activism for HIV/AIDS visibility was one of her many passions.
When Marsha P. Johnson’s body was discovered in the Hudson River, police automatically ruled it a suicide, despite statements from family and friends saying she never had depressive tendencies. Her importance has not been highlighted enough in mainstream media, but more are finally beginning to hear her story. Though Johnson could have been murdered, her legacy of activism and representation will live on forever.