“The shot glass heard around the world”. This was the phrase used to describe the legendary moment Marsha P. Johnson sparked the flame that would ignite into the LGBT civil rights movement.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was an African-American Transgender woman who was an outspoken advocate for trans people of color and an LGBT rights activist. Marsha was born on August 24th, 1945 in Elizabeth, NJ. Her parents were Malcolm Michaels Sr and Alberta Claiborne. Her father was an assembly line worker at General Motors and her mother was a housekeeper. She had six siblings – four brothers and two sisters. During her childhood, she attended an African Methodist Episcopal church and was religious throughout her life; taking an interest in multiple different faiths. She stated that she got married to Jesus Christ at 16 years old and that he was the only man she could really trust.
Though assigned male at birth, Marsha P. Johnson began to wear dresses at the age of five but stopped temporarily because she would get harassed by boys who lived near her house. She stated that she was once raped by another minor. Her mother told her that being homosexual is like being “lower than a dog”. Marsha defended her mother at the time saying that she was unaware of the LGBT community. At the age of 18, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village, New York. When asked about her move, she said, “My mother didn’t even have to show me the door.” She left her home with $15, her high school diploma, and a bag of clothes. On the streets, Marsha had no promise of a place to live, food to eat, or even a source of income.
Marsha originally began working as a waitress. Eventually, however, she was kicked out of the restaurant industry and learned how to ask for money on the streets. At the same time, she also learned how to “go out” with different men and get treated by them. She learned how to survive. Originally, she went by the name Black Marsha, but at the age of 22, she legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the P stood for, she responded: “Pay It No Mind”. This once got her out of court when a judge asked her what the P stood for. She waved her finger and professed “PAY IT NO MIND” the judge laughed and dismissed her charges.
Life on the streets was never easy for Marsha. She had very little to live on and was considered by some as a sort of Robin Hood. Her friends recall the many times she would give her last $10 away. Sharing all of her food, money, and possessions with other street people came as a natural act for her. She knew the pains of hunger and wanted to help every person that she could. A friend recounted a time at one point a baby queen told Marsha how she loved her broach. Marsha took it off and gave it away without hesitation. To learn more, give our episode a listen.
Like Reed Erickson, Marsha P. Johnson truly goes down as one of the most iconic figures in LGBT history. You can follow us at @YourQueerStory on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for regular updates.