Harvey Milk Festival Blog

In honor of Black History Month, we want to spotlight the life and legacy of Marsha P. Johnson in our first post of 2019.

P is for Pay It No Mind: The life of Marsha P Johnson

The untold costs in the history of LGBTQ people could fill volumes, perhaps even libraries. Yet, many figures still stand out as beacons despite what mainstream history might try to erase from the common thought. Marsha P Johnson was one such figure who stood tall above the rest for trans rights during the tumultuous time after the Stonewall Riots in June 1969.

Starting out from humble beginnings, Marsha P Johnson arrived in NYC in 1966 in her young teen years. She got by waiting tables at a local restaurant on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, known for its supportive and welcoming air to the LGBT community. Marsha then was enveloped in her passion for drag, where she performed with the local group, Hot Peaches. With her presence growing, her notoriety began to take off as well, especially for her sense of style: flowing dresses, red heels, and colorful wigs with a matching “pay it no mind” attitude.

With such a style, Marsha could not be missed walking throughout Greenwich Village. What could be considered off is Marsha’s presence at Stonewall the night of the 28th. It still goes contested to this day. Many unproven anecdotes exist about her that night, including pointing to her as one of the instigators of the riots themselves with the “shot glass heard around the world”. Marsha of course denied having been involved in the beginning of the riots, citing her arrival at the Stonewall after the riots began. Whatever the truth may be, she yet still played an important part thereafter in many pertinent LGBTQ related events, including the first ever Liberation Pride Rally Parade on Christopher Street. She appeared at the front of the parade despite several others in the community barring her and her drag sisters a presence in the iconic event.

Despite her notoriety, shortly after her TV appearance in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River with questionable cause of death. Police first ruled it a suicide, yet further private investigation into the case has resulted in its reopening as a homicide in 2012.

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