Fifty-one years ago this week, New York City police raided the Stonewall Bar, a small Greenwich Village bar popular with members of the gay community, 51 years ago this week,media CNET reported. The raid sparked the Stonewall riots and will be a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. Marsha P. Johnson, a gay liberation activist and self-confessed cross-dressing queen, has been a regular visitor to Greenwich Village for nearly three decades and a central figure in the Stonewall uprising against the police.
In honor of her contribution to the gay liberation movement, Google on Tuesday paid tribute to Johnson through Doodle as part of its traditional celebration of Pride Month, an annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gay and bisexual community.
Johnson was born on August 24, 1945, to a working-class family in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She started wearing skirts when she was five years old, but was temporarily suspended because of harassment by local children. After being sexually assaulted by another boy, she began to think of being gay as “some kind of dream” rather than possible.
After graduating from high school in 1963, Johnson moved to New York City with $15 and a bag of clothes and settled in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood popular with gay communities. Around this time, she changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson– which she once said represented “don’t mind.”
Despite the large number of homosexuals nearby, life outside the sexual mainstream is difficult. Bars are banned from serving alcoholic beverages to homosexuals, and same-sex dancing in public places is illegal, although stonewalls are allowed to dance because of weekly cash payments to the police, although raids still occur.
One of the raids took place just after midnight on 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Hotel. Johnson denied launching the uprising, but she was seen as a pioneer in resisting the police and the riots that followed. The crowd began throwing bottles, stones and other items at police after a police officer hit a lesbian on the head with a baton. A few minutes later, a full-scale riot broke out, with crowds trying to overturn and burn police cars, and some police officers and detained customers barricaded themselves in the bar.
The crowd was eventually dispersed, but tensions between the police and the gay community remained tense, leading to several days of protests, some of which attracted thousands of protesters. Later, a number of gay rights groups were formed, including the Gay Liberation Front and the Alliance of Gay Activists.
A year later, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, thousands of people marched in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — the first of dozens of gay pride parades that later became annual events in cities around the world.
Johnson went on to become an AIDS activist for ACT UP and co-founder of Gay Liberation Front and Street Transvestite Action Campaigners to help young transgender people in Lower Manhattan. But her life is full of hardships. She was often homeless and made a living from prostitution. She was in and out of a mental hospital in 1970 after a series of events that broke her down.
Johnson died in 1992. Her body was found floating in the Hudson River on July 6 and the cause of death was quickly ruled a suicide, but was later reclassified as undetermined. In 2012, the New York Police Department reopened the case as a possible homicide.
Tuesday’s Doodle was painted by Los Angeles-based guest artist Rob Gilliam, who said that as a “gay person of color,” he contributed a lot to Johnson’s work.