It’s time to celebrate LGBT history everybody! And I’m talking about more than last Thursday when Will and Grace returned to NBC.
Each October, we take time to honor the bravery and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well as the history of the movement for LGBT civil rights. The tradition was started in 1994 by Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, and was quickly endorsed by national leaders like GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and the National Education Association. This yearly observance is now coordinated by Equality Forum—a nonprofit that aims to advance LGBT civil rights through education—and includes the selection of 31 LGBT Icons, who are then featured daily on the LGBT history month website along with a video, bio, pictures, and a bibliography about that person’s contribution to the LGBT movement.
The Icons selected for 2017 include a wide variety of people from many walks of life who have all made their mark on our community, as well as our global history. As I looked at the list, one stood out to me as the perfect person to talk about in this post: Marsha “Pay it no Mind” Johnson. Marsha was a transwoman of color living in New York from 1966 until her death in 1992. Marsha, along with her friend Sylvia Rivera, was one of the leaders of the Stonewall Riot: the spark that ignited the fire of the modern LGBT rights movement. She was a drag performer with the troupe Hot Peaches, a model for Andy Warhol, a member of the advocacy group called the “Gay Liberation Front,” one of the founding mothers of the “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries” who provided resources, shelter, and food for homeless drag queens, gays, and runaways, and was a well-known AIDS activist with ACT UP.
Even amongst such a long list of important contributions to the LGBTQ community, Marsha is often forgotten in discussions about LGBT history. In a culture where Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Caitlyn Jenner, and Neil Patrick Harris are household names, where Harvey Milk sometimes seems like the only LGBT historical reference people know, and where the Hollywood portrayal of the Stonewall Riots center around fictional young, white, cisgender gay men, I find it important to remember Marsha’s leadership, her generosity, and her bravery. It is important to remember that transwomen of color are not a new and trending topic in the conversation about civil rights, but are rather founding members of the fight that has ended DOMA and DADT and brought marriage equality into reality.
Look out for Marsha’s LGBT History Month feature on October 20th. Check out Academy Award winner David France’s (How to Survive a Plague) new documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson on Netflix starting October 6th.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we learn about Marsha, talk about Marsha, to emulate Marsha’s devotion to living her truth and fighting for freedom, and to support other’s in their fight for freedom.
Happy LGBT History Month everybody!