HERitage is a month-long, four-part series exploring the lasting legacies of Black lesbian, trans*, and/or queer womyn.

The early summer night of June 27, 1969 was Marsha P. Johnson’s birthday. She spent that evening, which would mark the beginning of the week-long Stonewall Rebellion, dropping large weights on police cars, and fighting back with bottles against officers who had come to arrest patrons at the Stonewall Inn. Her compassion, kindness, and desire to create the practical spaces that foster revolutionary thought and action earned her the nickname “Saint Marsha.” Before her unprosecuted murder in 1992, Marsha P. Johnson established herself as an influential, beloved, and passionate figure in the evolving trans* and gay liberation movements.

Beyond helping carry out one of the earliest defining events of the modern TLGB movement, Johnson co-founded and served as Vice President of S.T.A.R. House. Originally named Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, the group was later renamed Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries in 2000 and offered living space and social services to cash-poor trans* youth. S.T.A.R. House’s two-year existence remains a model of alternative community for marginalized peoples.

Marsha P. Johnson’s legacy contains a priceless urgency – a plea for liberation and better lives by any means necessary. When asked during an interview with Voices of Gay Liberation how she responded to incidences of street harassment and attacks by johns, she responded, “I carry my wonder drug with me everywhere I go–a can of mace.  If they attack me, I’m going to attack them with my bomb,” and assured the interviewer that although she had not found the opportunity to use it she remained “patient.”

Despite her constant contributions to the fight for freedom and a modicum of safety for the TLGB community, her life is often relegated to a footnote in the story of the Stonewall riots. Without doubt, this is a testament to the vicious cocktail of transphobia and racism that is easily observable yet largely unquestioned in the gay and queer communities. The legacy of Marsha P. Johnson shows that building nourishing community spaces for marginal voices is a necessity. When asked what people in small towns without such accommodations should do, she replied that they should “start a S.T.A.R. of their own…if a transvestite doesn’t say I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite, then nobody else is going to hop up and say I’m gay and I’m proud and I’m a transvestite for them.”

– Cyrée Jarelle Johnson

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a Black Femme dyke writer, scholar, zinester, and poet. Cyrée Jarelle is committed to relocating Femme culture from margin to center using writing, non-formal education and communal publication. Ze remains a crippled Jersey Grrl abroad; in hir swollen feet ze is a wanderer, but hir heart is in the foodcourt at the Woodbridge Mall.

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