CULTURE

Remembering Marsha P. Johnson, a Leader in Gay Liberation

As Pride month ends, we look at the life of one of the most important figures in the push towards gay rights.

Content warning: This article contains a brief mention of sexual assault.

As Pride Month comes to a close, we remember Marsha P. Johnson, one of the principal figures in the gay liberation movement.

A Black transgender woman, Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1945. Her parents were blue collar workers who raised Johnson with her six siblings. At age five, she began wearing dresses, but stopped after boys in her neighborhood began bullying and harassing her over her outfits. She later recalled being violently raped by one of these boys, who she remembered being around 13 at the time.

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Trueself

Taking Back Pride: Black Lives Matter Marches Led by Queer and Trans People Reclaim Pride's Radical Roots

The Brooklyn Liberation March, a protest for Black Trans Lives, was truer to the original spirit and point of Pride than any corporatized Pride march.

This year's truest Pride event so far had no corporate floats and no rainbow flag logos.

It came together in a spirit of rage and defiance. It was the Brooklyn Liberation March, which began at the Brooklyn Museum and wound its way through Brooklyn for hours.

15,000 people, most clad in white, walked in the hot sunshine on June 12th. The march, organized by several Black trans-led organizations, was first conceptualized by a drag queen named West Dakota, who saw hypocrisy in the George Floyd protests erupting around the world that Sumer.

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CULTURE

Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson’s Relationship Is a Gift

Cara Delevingne's public declaration of love for her girlfriend is a reminder of what Pride month is really about.

On Monday, Cara Delevingne received the Hero Award from the Trevor Project for her support for LGBTQ+ causes.

In her speech, she discussed the challenges of being queer in Hollywood, and she had some special people to thank, including a very special woman in her life: her girlfriend, Ashley Benson.

TrevorLIVE NY 2019 Awards www.youtube.com

"She's one of the people who helped me love myself when I needed it most," Delevingne said. "She showed me what real love is and showed me how to accept it, which is a lot harder than I thought. I love you, Sprinkles," she said, setting every lesbian and bisexual's heart aflame and giving us all the Pride Month gift that we never knew we needed.

Later, Delevingne shared that she decided to go public with the news of the relationship for two reasons: first, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that launched Pride, and second, because this month marks their one year anniversary.

Though they had never actually discussed their relationship in the public eye until this week, fans had long known that sparks were flying—the two were photographed kissing in London last August, and they appeared together frequently over the course of the year, even sticking up for each other when trolls left hateful comments on Benson's Instagram.

Image via Buzzfeed

They fueled the flames when adorable photos of them cuddling in a car and riding roller coasters together appeared online, along with their matching outfits and extravagant celebrations (Delevingne rented out the Natural History Museum in London for her girlfriend's 29th birthday).

Things reached a fever pitch at the absolutely iconic moment when they were photographed carrying a $400 sex bench into their apartment on May 29th, effectively ringing in Pride Month, as one Twitter user noted.

Their relationship is just a gift that keeps on giving. As a cherry on top, Delevingne later shared this clip of the two passionately kissing, illuminated by sultry red lights.

Benson and Delevingne's admission comes at a time where Pride is rapidly being commodified and distorted beyond recognition. As LGBTQ+ acceptance becomes more mainstream, countless companies and powerful figures (cough, Taylor Swift) are adopting rainbow flag logos in order to sell their products or present an illusion of allyship when all they want is profit.

This fundamentally distorts the meaning of Pride—which began as a riot when Marsha P. Johnson threw a brick at a cop, but is ultimately supposed to be about activism and love. In light of Delevingne's work for the Trevor Project and open proclamation of love for her lady, her relationship with Benson is a gem that reminds us what the rainbow flag really stands for.


Be still my heart. Image via RTL Boulevard

CULTURE

Countering the Whitewashing of Pride: NYC Honors Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the city of New York has announced that they will commemorate two seminal LGBT rights activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, in the form of a public monument.

Marsha P. Johnson

Netflix

On Wednesday, the city of New York announced a permanent monument honoring gender non-conforming and trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

The Times reported that the two statues are proposed to be installed in the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, a block away from where Johnson and Rivera played a key role in the seminal Stonewall Uprising––the 1969 resistance (initiated by Stormé DeLarverie in response to a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar) that paved the way for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

As pioneering figures in the fight against racism, sexism, and transphobia, Johnson and Rivera were both drag queens afflicted by homelessness and cultural hostility at a time when trans rights were hardly recognized. In 1970, they worked together to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group that advocated for homeless gay youth (the term transgender was not widely used at the time).

This is not the first time the city has set out to commemorate the formative Stonewall uprising in a public memorial. In 1992, the city erected a set of statues in Christopher Park, featuring four seemingly cis-gender figures painted white. The monument, while probably made in good faith, was criticized for its failure to depict specific figures or include transgender women or people of color. In fact, it's been widely noted that the narrative of the gay rights movement often involves the erasure of trans women and POC activists. The statues of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will hopefully go a short way towards combating that trend.

popdust marsha johnson statue Stonewall statues / Christopher Park Alliance

"The LGBTQ movement was portrayed very much as a white, gay male movement," New York's First Lady McCray told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. "This monument counters that trend of whitewashing the history."

While the monuments are ostensibly a step in the right direction, this gesture can't undo the years of systemic violence against the trans community, particularly towards its POC members, by the city of New York. Despite Greenwich Village's storied past of gay rights liberation, the neighborhood has since become increasingly gentrified, rendering it financially, and perhaps culturally, inaccessible to many. Considering Johnson and Rivera's struggles with the erasure of marginalized trans bodies from the broader gay liberation movement, Greenwich Village's history is fraught with privilege and exclusion.

That being said, this announcement does demonstrate the city's effort to address New York's blatant gender gap in its public art. Among the hundreds of statues across New York City's five boroughs, only five depict historic women. The city says this monument to Johnson and Rivera will be one of the world's first for gender non-conforming and trans individuals.