A state park in New York was renamed yesterday in honor of legendary trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.
In an announcement yesterday – which would have been Johnson’s 75th birthday – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said that the East River State Park in Brooklyn will now officially be known as the Marsha P. Johnson State Park.
“Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” Cuomo said in a statement. He originally announced the plans to rename the park this past February.
“Marsha P. Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement and is only now getting the acknowledgment she deserves. Dedicating this state park for her, and installing public art telling her story, will ensure her memory and her work fighting for equality lives on.”
“New York is the proud birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement with the Stonewall Uprising more than 50 years ago,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in a statement. “Today, we dedicate the first State Park in New York in recognition of an LGBTQ hero – Marsha P. Johnson. The Marsha P. Johnson State Park honors the transgender woman of color, who led the fight for equal rights and justice for all.”
“With the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, now more than ever we must continue the fight for LGBTQ equality and racial justice in our society.”
The governor’s website has several renderings of what the park will look like after it has been revamped to reflect “Marsha’s style and colors.”
Johnson was a sex worker, a drag performer, and an activist for LGBTQ, HIV, and other causes in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. With Sylvia Rivera, she co-founded the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which provided support for young transgender, non-binary, and queer youth in New York City.
She is best known today for the role she played in the Stonewall Riots in 1969. David Carter’s book on Stonewall, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, named her as one of “three individuals known to have been in the vanguard” of the demonstrations against the police at the mafia-run gay bar.
A year later, Johnson would march in the first Pride, but in 1973 she and Rivera were banned from the yearly demonstration because they “weren’t gonna allow drag queens,” who organizers said were “giving them a bad name,” according to the documentary Pay It No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson.
In the 80s, she demonstrated with ACT-UP.
In 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River. Police ruled her death a suicide, but the people who knew her have expressed doubt that she died by suicide and noted that she faced constant homophobic, transphobic, and racist harassment and that police ignored witnesses who saw her being harassed just before her death.