#BlackGayHistory: Marsha P. Johnson

I am sure you heard of the Stonewall Riot,a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.  

Well you should know about Ms Marsha P. Johnson!

Just in case you don’t, Marsha P. Johnson  was an African American transgender activist and a popular figure in New York City’s gay and art scene from the 1960s to the 1990s.One of the city’s oldest and best known drag queens, Johnson participated in clashes with the police amid the Stonewall Riots.

She was a co-founder, along with Sylvia Rivera, of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) in the early 1970s. She also was the “mother” of S.T.A.R. House along with Sylvia, getting together food and clothing to help support the young queens living in the house on the lower East Side of New York.

Once, appearing in a court the judge asked Marsha, “What does the ‘P’ stand for?”, Johnson gave her customary response “Pay it No Mind.” This phrase became her trademark. In 1974 Marsha P. Johnson was photographed by famed artist Andy Warhol, as part of a “ladies and gentlemen” series of polaroids featuring drag queens.

 An interview with Marsha P. Johnson by gay activist Allen Young can be found in the book “Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation,” originally published in 1972 and available in a new edition from New York University Press.

In July 1992, Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers shortly after the 1992 Pride March. Police ruled the death a suicide.Johnson friends and supporters said she was not suicidal, and a people’s postering campaign later declared that Johnson had earlier been harassed near the spot where her body was found. Attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful.

Today Johnson’s legacy still survives, and popular New York City art band Antony and the Johnsons adopted their name from Johnson.

Spare Some Change For A Dying 

Can you spare any change for a dying queen dar—ling?I mean I am 

dying. I know you don’t believe me. But I know what I’m talking 

about. Yes I do. Us queens know what we’re talking about because 

we’re for liberation, yes we are.

Look at the Stonewall. When I 

first came to New York all pressed and clean in a white shirt 

and tie what my mother bought me I heard about the Stonewall so

I thought I’d go over and check it out and LORD! Men are 

dancing with men and one more gorgeous than another and way in the

back were my sisters, honey turning it out in gold lame and wigs for


So I was hanging out in the Stonewall one night talking to Miss

June, who was feeling low and nodding out on downs when she 

looked up at me and said, “Them pigs come in here tonight they 

better stay off my motherfuckin’ case.” 

And she was right cause we

wasn’t bothering nobody just hanging out and being ourselves when

don’t you know sure enough the whistle done blew and in they 

come pushing and shoving everyone just like a bunch of pigs and

ain’t nobody said nothing cause in them days if you was gay you

didn’t say you was gay


So they’re pushing and shoving and nobody said nothing til them

came to the queens then this pig comes up and gave Miss June one 

slap knocked her down ripped her dress and scratched her face. 


Darling, anybody will tell you that a queen is sort of soft 

hearted, easy going person who you can sort of shove around but 

Darling let me tell you this. There are two things you cannot do to a


One. You cannot rip a queen’s dress.

And Two…Don’t you 

ever, never touch the face honey…Well Miss June got up screaming

and yelling when this pig goes to hit her again so I said ”Hey,

why don’t you leave her alone she ain’t bothering nobody.” And he

turned to me and said,“Shut up you sick faggot.”

Now Darling, You

can call me a lot of things, you can call me a queer, a 

cocksucker, or a crazy fool, but ain’t nobody got no right to call

me a piece of wood. That’s right, a piece of wood. I looked

it up one day and it was right there in the Webster’s a 

faggot is a piece of wood. And Darling I ain’t no piece of wood and

I was telling Miss Pig this when he came to knock me, then Miss 

June picked up a chair and swung it and everybody started screaming 

and fighting and queens was getting their faces scratched honey and

you know what that meant.

And the next thing I know we all wound 

up in the Tombs……..again.

Them pigs done busted up our fun, busted our heads and just 

plain old busted us. But that was O.K., honey.Yes it was because

that was the beginning of gay liberation in New York and in the 

world. Yes it was.

And now everybody done forgot who done what 

and why and how and you know, sometimes when I pass one of them 

gay bars where I see my brothers or sisters having a good time and

turning it out in all their liberated glory and I see hanging 

right over that bar a sign what says “No Drunks, No dogs, No drags.”Can

you imagine comparing me to a dog? Well honey, I just want to break 

right down.

But I just pay it no mind, that’s right darling, cause

once you 86 me I tip and once I tip I stay tipped. And they can 

86 me out of every gay bar in the village. And they can 86 me out of 

every gay bar in New York. And honey, they can 86 me out of every gay

bar in the world and I pay it no mind because I got my friends.


I do, and I do know who my friends are. My friends are people who 

love their gay sisters and brothers including the queens. My 

friends are people who got change to spare. And my friends are people

who smile at me and understand when I say Can you spare any 

change for a dying queen, Dar—ling?

So they next time you’re in one 

of them bars what has that sign, “no drunks, no dogs, no drags” the

next time you see them turning out one of my gay brothers or sisters Honey,

you just dig real deep down into your pocket and take some of that 

change you’re saving for your cold beers and your hot dogs and get

over yourself andspare some change for a dying queen………dar—ling.

Posted on February 3, 2011, in #blackgayhistory. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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