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Marsha P. Johnson was a transwoman who became an important face of the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community in New York City. She was on the front lines of protests against oppressive policing, helped found one of the country’s first safe spaces for transgender and homeless youth and advocated tirelessly on behalf of sex workers, prisoners and people with HIV/AIDS.
The “nobody, from Nowheresville” – as she described herself in a 1992 interview – moved to New York City from her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, with nothing but $15.
That’s when she adopted the name Marsha P. Johnson. The “P,” she told people,
stood for “Pay it no mind.”
Johnson played a key role in the uprising that began on June 28, 1969, at the
Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village after police raided the gay bar and patrons fought back. Protests against police brutality and harassment of the LGBTQIA+ community followed over the next six days.
The first anniversary of the protests prompted
the first gay pride parade in 1970.
Johnson, alongside her good friend Sylvia Rivera, emerged from the clashes as leaders in the nascent gay liberation movement.
They helped found the group
Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which offered housing to homeless and transgender youth.
The pioneering activists were concerned about the dangers faced by transgender people who were often forced into prostitution to support themselves, according to the New York Public Library.
They created the first LGBT youth shelter in North America and the first organization in the United States led by trans women of color, according to the
Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
Johnson was also an AIDS activist associated with the group ACT UP until her death.