Marsha P. Johnson, today recognized as an icon in the transgender community, led a marginal, often difficult life encompassing both good and often desperate times.

Throughout Greenwich Village, she was known as “Saint Marsha.” Friends admired her ability to be herself and her larger-than-life persona. Marsha had an intrusive nature and a reputation for being generous and kind. She gave people clothes and food, even though she had little – a selflessness that wasn’t fully appreciated until after her passing. 

Despite her popularity and colorful personality, Marsha lived a life of desperation, poverty, and danger. She was arrested over 100 times. Unfortunately, sex work was the only way she knew how to survive. In 1990, Marsha contracted HIV/AIDS. She spoke publicly and openly about it in the community and helped destigmatize the disease, a lasting legacy that won’t be forgotten.

Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River on July 6, 1992. The authorities ruled her death a suicide. Marsha’s acquaintances strongly disagreed. They believed Marsha was a victim of an attack. As it is today, trans women, particularly women of color, are frequent targets of hate crimes. The LGBTQA+ community was furious that the police showed little interest in investigating her death.

The case involving Marsha’s death remained closed and ignored for decades. In 2012, the NYPD finally agreed to re-open it, yet the issue remains unsolved. Since then, Marsha has become an icon of the transgender community. In 2020, New York State named a waterfront park in Brooklyn after Marsha.


New York Historical Society Museum & Library https://wams.nyhistory.org/growth-and-turmoil/growing-tensions/marsha-p-johnson/