Why Marsha P. Johnson Is Being Remembered During Pride — And Police Brutality Protests

Though it is honored frequently during Pride festivities, Johnson’s legacy as a Black advocate for transgender rights, who fought against police brutality, is particularly pertinent amid the recent wave of protests across the country.

Netflix/The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

The start of Pride Month has converged with both the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide demonstrations protesting police brutality, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. 

Though June is typically a time of celebration and parading in the streets, Pride events around the world have been cancelled to slow the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, civil unrest has erupted around the country as people demand police accountability and justice for Floyd, who died after being choked by a Minneapolis police officer

To galvanize people to act against racial injustice, while also celebrating the history of Pride, many online are asking people to remember Marsha P. Johnson, a Black advocate for transgender individuals whose actions helped ignite the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Though it is honored frequently during Pride festivities, Johnson’s legacy as a Black LGBTQ+ activist, who fought against police brutality, is particularly pertinent as protesters around the U.S. (and world) desperately call for an end to systemic racism and attacks on Black communities by law enforcement. 

Johnson, who died in 1992 at the age of 46, was a prominent LGBTQ+ civil rights defender and one of the central figures in the Stonewall Uprising — a movement that took off after a group of LGBTQ+ individuals stood up against a police raid at New York City’s Stonewall Inn in 1969. Johnson also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a political collective that also provided housing for queer youth and sex workers experiencing homelessness, with fellow trans activist Sylvia Rivera.

Since conventional Pride festivities aren’t on this year's calendar, many are encouraging others to celebrate instead by revisiting the history of the movement, which Johnson and other LGBTQ+ women of color helped start.

Johnson’s legacy is also being used to inspire people to stand up against racial injustice in the U.S., which has once again been underscored by the deaths of innocent Black victims of police brutality.

To reaffirm the city’s support of the LGBTQ+ community, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in February that he will direct the State Parks Commissioner to rename Brooklyn’s East River State Park after Johnson. Chirlane McCray also launched She Built NYC in 2018 to introduce more statues of women to the five boroughs, and said that a monument to Johnson and Rivera would go up near the Stonewall Inn sometime in 2021.