Our next post for Black History Month is dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson, LGBTQ+ rights & AIDS activist who had psychiatric disabilities. Marsha was born in New Jersey in August 1945, one of seven children to her parents. In 1963 she left home for a life in New York City, where she remained until her death in 1992. Marsha was a gender-nonconforming figure of NYC’s drag community, and a key figure in the Stonewall Uprising. The uprising occurred on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in NYC when NYC police (specifically the “Public Morals Squad”) performed a raid in an attempt to arrest the LGBTQ+ patrons and the patrons fought back. The uprising lasted several days & nights, and its impact spread across the city and eventually across the world. The following year, in July 1970, the commemoration event in NYC became the very first Pride parade, and these events soon spread across the country. You can read more about the Stonewall Uprising by clicking here (content notice for police violence, sexual assault, harmful language).
While never stating publicly her mental health diagnoses, Marsha spoke about having “mental breakdowns” and experiencing depression. Unfortunately, she was a prime target for incarceration and spent many years in and out of jails, prisons and mental health institutions. She experienced stigma on many fronts, including for having psychiatric disabilities.
Marsha’s life ended in July 1992 when her deceased body was found floating in the Hudson River, NYC. Her death was initially ruled by police as a suicide, but in more recent years investigations have been reopened into the circumstances of her death which is now officially listed as “undetermined”. Her legacy is a tremendous one of living at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and disability, something that today we understand better than ever–but we still have such a long way to go. We thank you, Marsha P. Johnson, for that legacy.
You can read about Marsha P. Johnson from Wikipedia at this link.