If you are celebrating Pride Month this June, you owe Johnson quite a lot. Many claim she began the Stonewall riots, which ignited the gay rights movement.
June is Pride Month! However, without black transgender activist Marsh P Johnson and other black LGBTQ+ activists like her, we probably wouldn't have a Pride Month, a Pride March, or an LGBTQ+ community. The Pride March was initially a riot, known as the Stonewall riots. These protests were a series of "spontaneous, violent demonstrations" triggered by a police raid that began on June 28 in the year 1969. The riots get their name from the gay bar where they began - the Stonewall Inn located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Johnson was the one who threw the first brick, many eyewitness accounts have affirmed.
New York Department Police officers made a few arrests on questionable charges at the Stonewall Inn. Very publicly, the perpetrators of no crime at all were handcuffed and shoved into police vehicles. Fed up by constantly being targeted by the cops, members of the LGBTQ+ community collectively decided to fight against the institutional discrimination they faced. The decision to do so has been described as a "watershed moment" in history. According to Biography.com, several eyewitnesses have claimed that Johnson was the first to instigate the protests, putting her life at risk for the sake of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Stonewall riots have long been praised as the spark that triggered the gay rights movement. As Shane O'Neill writing for The New York Times explained, "Stonewall was, at its core, about people reclaiming their narratives from a society that told them they were sick or pitiful or didn’t even exist." While we recognize this moment in history as a pivotal shift, little credit is given to those who got the wheels turning. It is only in the recent past that Johnson and other black and/or trans activists' involvement has been recognized. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community shunned Johnson - and those like her - for her "confused" gender identity. Others, for her blackness.
In the present day, there are still distinctions between the members of the LGBTQ+ community. We have simply taken the existing discriminations of the heteronormative world and converted them to suit those who don't fit in that universe. However, we are slowly beginning to recognize the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. There is no way we can have the liberation of one oppressed group without the liberation of all of them.
This year, Pride Month happens to take place at the same time as demonstrations in protest against police brutality and racism erupt across the country. It is a reminder, therefore, that our identities cannot be shoved into neat little tick boxes. Rather, that we are fighting for an end to all subjugation. Johnson was both black and an active member of the LGBTQ+ community. First starting out as a drag queen, she was "known for her outlandish hats and glamorous jewelry," but she was also known for being an outspoken advocate for trans people of color. As we continue to further the civil rights movement, let us remember that the intersections of our identities deserve equal recognition. Let's not forget the first Johnson sparked, let's keep it burning.