Two years have gone by since New York City officials announced the monumental tribute to black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. Her monument would become the first statue in New York dedicated to an LGBTQ person and a black transgender woman. The project was announced through Chirlane McCray's She Built NYC program, which aims to represent more statues of prominent black and LGBTQ figures.
Out of 150 male historical statues, only 6 are of female historical figures. According to a press release from Union County, even city officials paid a visit to Johnson’s family in 2019 to deliver the supposed good news. However, due to the novel pandemic and New York’s governing officials taking their sweet time in arriving at a decision, Johnson’s monument never saw the light of day. That’s all changed now.
Last Tuesday, a group of LGBTQ activists took matters into their own hands. The activists made a tribute to Johnson and installed her bust in Christopher Park, near Stonewall National Monument. The date would’ve marked Johnson’s 76th birthday. Thanks to the work of prominent activists, Eli Erlick and Jessi Pallotta, the writer and sculptor who made Johnson’s a reality. They even captured her liveness.
The bronze monument is almost an exact replica of a famous photograph of Marsha P. Johnson. Moreover, the black transgender revolutionary dons a tiara on her head, with live flowers looped through. Similarly, the photograph shows Johnson smiling with a crown of brilliant flowers strewn through her hair. the bust sits atop of her accompanying plaque that reads the black trans activist’s most famous quote.
“History isn't something you look back at and say it was inevitable. It happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” Those who knew Johnson remember the quote quite well. Erlick, who knew Johnson personally for a short period of time, certainly recalls her amazing words.
Furthermore, in talks with Gothamist, Erlick told the publication that the city often ignores matters of representation, diversity or inclusivity. “The statue didn't receive a permit because the NYC Parks permitting system is a long, subjective process. Committees have historically used permitting to deny statues of people of color, women, and queer people, leaving the trans community without any representation.” In closing remarks, Erlick told the city that he and his followers had no intentions of removing the bust. Even so, the activist writer and Pallotta acknowledged that the bronze bust was only made to last temporarily.
In spite of Erlick’s statements, the NYC Parks department claimed that they have no final say in how long the monument stays up. Though, Erlick and Pallott remain hopeful that the city of New York will finally make good on their promise and make Marsha P. Johnson’s actual monument.
Though, Erlick and Pallot’s efforts exude the very dedication and drive to implement change, the same way Marsha P. Johnson did. When the government stood by and did nothing, Johnson stepped in to help. For years, the transgender activist has remained a prominent figure in New York City’s Gay Liberation Movement. Through her activism, she stood up for the rights of gay and trans people throughout America.
Johnson especially played a major role during the 1969 uprising at Stonewall Inn. Police brutality ensued at a local bar in town, where officers violently attacked gay and transgender patrons. The attack led to a days-long protests. During a 1989 interview, Marsha P. Johnson told police everywhere that the LGBTQ community refuses to live in fear any longer. “We were just saying, 'no more police brutality' and 'we had enough of police harassment in the Village and other places.”
Not only had she been the first to “decommission” the police, Johnson also helped out in the community. With the help of another prominent black transgender activist, Sylvia Rivera, they started the organization STAR, which helped to provide shelter and food for homeless LGBTQ youth. Johnson herself could relate as she was homeless several times throughout her life. Often times, she turned to prostitution for survival. Though rough times had fallen on her, the activist still helped out her community in anyway she could. Additionally, she acted as a staunch activist for AIDS survivors. Johnson organized with ACT Up New York up until her death in 1992. Officials discovered her body in the Hudson River that same year.
Having done so much for New York’s transgender and the LGBTQ community as a whole, Johnson’s work deserves recognition.