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LGBTQ+ History Month: Marsha P. Johnson, Queer Rights Activist

By October 20, 2018 No Comments

In October, the USA and other countries observe LGBTQ+ History month. This month, SAGA (the Sexuality and Gender Alliance) and The Sundial Press are collaborating each week to highlight this history. Short, sweet and scintillating, we hope you enjoy them.

Marsha P. Johnson was a drag queen and gay rights activist living in New York from the 1960s up until her death.  As a child, Johnson was a victim of sexaul assault and when her family refused to accept her sexual orientation, she knew there was nothing left for her there. So, at the age of 18, Johnson left for New York with only 15 dollars to her name. Johnson lived on the streets, oftentimes selling sex to survive the next day. Despite this struggle, Johnson was an active fighter for her rights. She participated in the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries organization. Her activism continued until her tragic death in 1992. Clement Streiff’s poem honors her struggles, success, and death.

 

You were bathing in the flickering lights,

Whirling around in the crowds that you knew so well

Everybody was looking at you, Marsha

But if only they knew.

 

1945:

You were born with the burden of your name

Malcolm Michaels Jr. did not understand

Why the boys were so mean to her,

Why this dress was not to be worn,

Why you were called “lower than a dog” by your own mother.

 

So you grew a shell of steel

With nothing but fifteen bucks and a bag of clothes

And settled to New York City.

Oh Marsha, how did it feel to see the skyscrapers?

 

Life was tough but you made it

Slept here and there,

Lending your body to feed yourself

Your mind being so low

Your survival being a challenge to the face of the Earth.

 

Yet you still felt yourself living high sometimes

Like when Andy wanted you to be his canvas

Took these polaroids of you

Your smile, immortalized.

Or when you entered your new home for the first time

On Christopher Street.

 

What did you want to find there?

You started showing up every day

Soon enough you became the star of Stonewall

People wouldn’t know your distress

But people would at least know your name.

 

You became a great among the greatest

So great you merged into Manhattan’s skyline

 

June 28, 1969

It is past midnight

Everything is a blur

Policemen came in

They are burning Stonewall

They even brought truncheons

Oh Marsha, why?

 

“I got my civil rights”

You beautifully shouted

You fought along your friends,

Along the community that was left bleeding.

 

A road was paved for you:

You’re an activist now, Marsha, they would say

Gay Liberation Front

Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries

Act Up

You did it all.

 

Your smile shed light during the darkest of days

Warm beads and sunrays and love

Emanating from your shattered heart

 

1992:

A body is floating in the Hudson River

Marsha is dead

Long live Marsha’s memory.

 

Clément Streiff is a News section writer for the Sundial Press. Originally from rural France but a wannabe international kid, he is now a first-year student in the Dual BA Program between Sciences Po and Columbia University. When he is not procrastinating and denying hundreds of deadlines, Clément can also be found jogging, reading essays he can’t understand, cooking meals with love, and listening to ABBA’s Gold in a concerningly obsessive way.

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