'Darling, I want my gay rights now!' - Remembering Black Trans Pride leader, Marsha P. Johnson

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

This weekend marks the anniversary of a movement started in 1969 that Marsha P. Johnson led until her death in 1992. She lived in extreme poverty and was housing-insecure, but she had power, she had Pride and she changed the world.

MANHATTAN, New York — Over half a century ago, on Sat. June 28, 1969, a Manhattan neighborhood erupted in protests after police violently raided a bar which had been targeted for being a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

The Stonewall Inn was a place where marginalized people were known to gather. Trans people, drag queens, and gay men and women either deemed 'too effeminate' or 'too butch' to pass as straight were among the bar's patrons.

On the night of June 28, 1969, they reached flash-point after being persecuted by police. The two days of riots that ensued are often considered the birthing pains of the modern movement for LGBTQ+ rights.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. That night the street erupted into violent protests and street demonstrations that lasted for the next three days. The Stonewall riots marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.

The first #Pride protest outside the Stonewall Inn in New York in '69 has long be hailed as led by black transgender women, Marsha P. Johnson.

“Darling, I want my gay rights now!”

When asked by a reporter what she was doing at Stonewall, Johnson replied, "Darling, I want my gay rights now!" It encompasses how fed up the queer community was at the time with being treated as less-than. 

"Debates have raged for decades about exactly what and who lit the spark that night," reports Barnes & Nobel Reads. "Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, artist, and activist, has often been named as one of the first of those present to defy the police, as has Latina drag queen Sylvia Rivera, who was emotionally raw from the funeral of Judy Garland that morning, but invigorated by the sense of shared loss she encountered at Stonewall."

Johnson, unfortunately like too many Americans, was very poor and didn't have security in housing. She had to create her iconic drag looks from scraps, purportedly searching dumpsters for discarded fabric and Christmas lights. She spent what little money she had on old flowers for her extravagant headpieces. Marsha P. Johnson had very little, but she was proud, she was power, and she was Pride.

“You never completely have your rights, one person, until you all have your rights,” she said toward the end of her life about why she joined the Gay Rights movement.

"As long as my people don’t have their rights across America, there’s no reason for celebration," said Johnson. It's a poignant reminder that no one is free until we’re all free, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Pride celebrates rights for which so many people fought, but Johnson believed in continuing the fight for all marginalized groups. I do, too.

Johnson died after the 1992 Pride Parade. Her body was discovered floating in the Hudson River. Police initially ruled the death a suicide, partly due to her history of mental illness, but Johnson's friends and other community members insisted Johnson was not suicidal and noted that the back of Johnson's head had a massive wound.

She will be remembered as an iconic and legendary Gay Rights activist.

The #LGBTQ+ understanding of the adversity faced by our brothers and sisters of color runs deep. During this time of racial tension in the US, Gay BIPOC's selfless patience, alliance, and advocacy has not gone unnoticed.

It's been a difficult year for America ⁠— a four year reign really ⁠— lacking in leadership. It could be easy for the LGBTQ+ community to again feel forgotten. Pride was supposed to be a joyous time of celebration. The rainbow lights that once lit up the White House are off. Parades were canceled.

As the 'Stay Safe, Stay Home' order lifts across Michigan and Pride Month 2020 closes, it's a perfec