Life Story: Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Transgender Activist

The story of a transgender activist who participated in the Stonewall Uprising and fought for equal rights.

Content Warning: This resource addresses physical and sexual violence.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, ca. 1989-1990. The Rudy Grillo Collection, Rudy Grillo / LGBT Community Center Archive.

Marsha P. Johnson at the First Christopher Street Liberation Day March

Marsha P. Johnson at the First Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1970. Leonard Fink / LGBT Community Center Archive.

This video was created by the New-York Historical Society Teen Leaders in collaboration with the Untold project.

Suggested Activities

  • Marsha was neither the first nor the last trans woman of color to be a victim of violence. Regardless of the true nature of her death, she was a victim of violence, including police brutality, throughout her life. Invite students to research recent activism around the extreme violence that trans women of color continue to face. You may wish to start with a screening of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson or a search for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. 
  • Much of Marsha’s life story has been pieced together through interviews featured in the documentary Pay It No Mind—The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson. Screen excerpts from this film so that students can hear directly from Marsha and the people in her life. 
  • Compare the lives of Marsha P. Johnson and Christine Jorgensen, two trans women from New York City. How did issues of race and privilege inform their experiences?
  • Connect Marsha’s life story to other LGBTQ individuals within WAMS, including Thomas(ine) Hall, the Public Universal Friend, Bessie Smith, Jane Addams, Pauli Murray, Christine Jorgensen, Antonia Pantoja, and Billie Jean King.
  • One of Marsha’s proudest moments was with Andy Warhol. Invite students to study Warhol’s portrait of Marsha and learn about the Ladies and Gentleman series through the Tate Britain’s website
  • Invite students to learn more about the Stonewall Inn uprising by exploring the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project and the National Park Service websites. 
  • A few days before her death, Marsha gave an interview in which she joked about the recent installment of a monument outside the Stonewall Inn. She noted that many people had to die in order for “two statues” to be erected. Invite students to learn more about this monument and connect it to the life of Marsha P. Johnson. Why do they think Marsha had this attitude? Do they believe the monument is an appropriate homage to this event and community? 
  • Invite students to research the ways in which Marsha’s legacy is being remembered today. Encourage them to search for articles about the Marsha and Sylvia statue in New York City, Marsha P. Johnson state park in Brooklyn, and more. Ask them to think about the kind of monument or memorial they would want to create for Marsha, based on her life story. 



Source Notes