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.
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
You did it all.
Your smile shed light during the darkest of days
Warm beads and sunrays and love
Emanating from your shattered heart
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.