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Stonewall trailblazer Marsha P Johnson becomes first-ever LGBT+ person to be honoured with a state park

Josh Milton August 25, 2020
Marsha P Johnson

Marsha P Johnson (pictured) and Sylvia Rivera's STAR House inspired the name of a new LGBT+ refuge centre. (Netflix)

New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday (24 August) that a Brooklyn park will be dedicated to Stonewall pioneer Marsha P Johnson on what would have been her 75th birthday.

This will make her the first-ever LGBT+ person to be honoured with a state park, according to a statement on the New York state’s website.

In renaming it the Marsha P Johnson State Park, city officials aim to transform the green space into a bustling cultural hub where, alongside a dedicated installation and outdoor gallery to the pioneer, an education centre will also be built.

“I’m proud to announce the dedication of East River State Park in Brooklyn to Marsha P Johnson,” Cuomo tweeted.

“Today, Marsha P Johnson State Park becomes the first state park to honour an LGBT+ person.

“NY is indebted to her for her brave advocacy and relentless fight for LGBT+ equality.”

Stonewall vanguard ‘is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves,’ says Andrew Cuomo.  

The state plans to add a sprawling monument across a patch of the park bearing an image of Johnson clutching a megaphone against a trans Pride flag and various flowers – a signature style of Johnson, who often adorned herself vibrant flora.

In an apparent acknowledgement of the city’s glaring gap in public art, where statues of LGBT+ figures are virtually nonexistent, a zealous quote of Johnson’s deriding official’s sluggishness at honouring the Stonewall Rebellion in 1992 will be featured in the memorial.

A rendering of the planned Marsha P Johnson State Park, aimed for a 2021 opening, officials said. (Flickr/New York State Parks)
A rendering of the planned Marsha P Johnson State Park, aimed for a 2021 opening, officials said. (Flickr/New York State Parks)

“How many years does it take for people to see that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race?,” she said. “I mean how many years does it take for people to see that we’re all in this rat race together.”

“Too often, the marginalised voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognised, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Marsha P Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBT+ movement and is only now getting the acknowledgement 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.”

Cuomo first announced that East River State Park in Brooklyn would be renamed at the Human Rights Campaign Greater New York gala earlier this year.

Who was Marsha P Johnson?

A spirited performer beloved by the Greenwich Village street life scene, Johnson was a key player in New York city’s lively undergrowth of queer activism, founding the Gay Liberation Front and becoming involved with ACT UP.

Stonewall Riots: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P Johnson (left) and Sylvia Rivera (right). (Netflix)

Aged 23, she was one of many involved in a string of protests sparked by a police raid of the gay bar Stonewall, an event that emboldened many queer folk to galvanise a more energised and assertive rights movement.

She went onto work on behalf of homeless queer youth through her group, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), as well as AIDS patients.

Many would have expected her to be beaten down and fragile, but Johnson defied expectations that continue to constrain many queer trans women of colour with her insistent calls for change up until her death in 46 in 1992.

 

More: Andrew Cuomo, Marsha P Johnson, New York, New York City, stonewall riots, US

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