top of page

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P Johnson
00:00 / 03:55

Video about Marsha: Pay It No Mind

 This is Marsha P. Johnson.  Everyone’s Drag mother. 


Born in 1945 in New Jersey Marsha was assigned male at birth and was born into a highly religious household. While she started wearing dresses at age 5 she stopped for many years due to harassment from boys in her neighborhood. She moved to New York at age 18 with only a bag of clothes and $15 in her pocket. 


When she started doing drag she used the name “Black Marsha” but soon adopted the name Marsha P Johnson. If you asked her, she’d tell you the “P” stood for “Pay it no mind”. Marsha was a vibrant and intoxicating performer, audiences loved her despite the fact that she couldn’t sing. She even captured the attention of Andy Warhol who invited her to be a model for his work.


Even on the streets, Marsha wore her identity with pride. She was known for wearing fabulous outfits found in the trash or from thrift stores. Like many trans people at that time, her identity made it difficult to maintain a job so she lived on the streets finding various temporary places to sleep. For a time, she slept under a flower shop table and she would be given the leftover flowers. She turned these flowers into elaborate crowns which became her signature. 


In front of you, is a crown and flowers. You can pick your favorite flower and add it to her crown. 


In 1969, Marsha became an iconic figure in the Stonewall Riots. Since being gay was illigal, there were no places for gay people to gather and meet each other. The mafia saw this as an opportunity to make some money. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the mafia who paid off the police to ignore what was happening there. As part of the agreement between the police and the mafia, the police made regular raids. These were generally not violent but the police would grab people making arrest, primarily focusing on trans individuals. 


On the night of June 28 1969, the gay comunity decided they were done taking it. This was the spark of  two nights of riots which ignighted the gay rights movement in the United States. Legend says that Marsh threw a shot glass, breaking a mirror, and sparking the riots. It’s known as “the shot glass heard around the world”. Some say this story isn't true and that Marsha arrived later in the night. Either way, Marsha was a key figure in the gay rights movement. She was always present at protests and was a strong unceasing voice for equal rights for all people.  


Marsha P Johnson was a  founding member of Gay Liberation Front. She also co-founded STAR with her dear friend Sylvia Rivera. The name stood for Street. Transvestite. Action. Revolutionaries. They got an apartment calling it STAR house and brought in trans youth from the street giving them a home. 


Despite her impact, the mainstream gay rights movement often tried to sideline Marsha. They thought that having drag queens stained the image of the movement. But Marsha would not accept that nonsense. When she was banned from the gay pride parade in 1973, she and Slyvia marched in front of the parade in protest. 


When the AIDs crisis hit in the 1980’s Marsha was right there again to stand up for her community. She continued her activism with ACT UP. Marsha was someone the community could count on to show up because she cared. When she was found dead in the Hudson river in 1992 the gay comunity greived her loss deeply creating a memorial at the location she was found. 


There has never been a satisfactory explanation to the cause of her death. Her death inspired her friend Sylvia Rivera returned to New York and took up Marsha’s activism work. Marsha continues to inspire people and is the drag mother of the gay rights movement.

bottom of page