Marsha P Johnson's life and death explored after Met Gala tribute

Olivia Olphin September 15, 2021

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Nikkie De Jager, aka Nikkie Tutorials, took to the Met Gala red carpet this week with a dress that celebrated the life of trans icon Marsha P Johnson. We take a closer look at the life of this gay activist and Stonewall rioter, and also explore the events surrounding her death.

Who was Marsha P Johnson?

Marsha P Johnson has become a gay and trans icon, and was instrumental in the Stonewall riots of 1969. Transgender activist Mariah Lopez has called her: “The Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ movement”.

Johnson was born on 24 August 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as Malcom Michaels Jr, but legally changed her name in 1966. She served in the US Navy for a short while after graduating from Thomas A. Edison High School in 1963.

For many years Marsha lived on the streets of New York without a permanent home or address. She turned to prostitution in order to survive, but later found her own queer community in the nightlife of Greenwich Village.

When asked what the P in her name stood for Marsha would simply say that it meant “pay it no mind”. This was in reference to people continuously asking her if she was male or female.

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Marsha became a ‘drag mother’ to many young LGBTQ+ people who were struggling with homelessness. She also said that:

“I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville until I became a drag queen. That’s what made me in New York, that’s what made me in New Jersey, that’s what made me in the world.”

Marsha lived in Greenwich Village in New York from 1966 until her death in 1992. On 28 June 1966, there was a riot at the Stonewall Inn after members of the police harassed the LGBT community. While it is not entirely clear who started the riots, many eyewitnesses have identified Marsha as one of the original instigators of resistance.

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Events surrounding Marsha P Johnson’s death

On 6 July 1992 Marsha P Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River, just off the West Village Piers. At the time the police stated that her death was due to suicide, despite her friend’s claims that she was not suicidal.

With mounting pressure on the authorities from the queer community Marsha’s death was changed from a suicide to ‘undetermined’.

However, footage was shared to InsideEdition that suggests Marsha was contemplating her own death in the days prior. She is heard saying in the video “I always say tomorrow is not promised to me”.

She was last seen in Greenwich Village on 4 July 1992, and according to witnesses some people saw her being chased. The case was reopened by Victoria Cruz, a crime victim advocate for the City Anti-Violence Project, in 2017.

After her death her body was cremated and her ashes spread in the Hudson River off over the Christopher Street Pier.

Nikkie Tutorials pays tribute to trans hero at the Met Gala

The Met Gala this year celebrated all things American fashion and culture throughout history. YouTuber Nikki De Jager attended the prestigious event with a dress honouring Marsha P Johnson. The blue tulle mermaid style dress had the words ‘pay it no mind’ on the front and was also adorned in flowers, in reference to Marsha’s iconic flowering headbands.

Nikkie took to Twitter to share her respect and admiration for the trans icon.

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Olivia Olphin is an English Literature graduate and a film and literature fanatic. She has many years of reviewing experience, recently working as accredited press for the London Film Festival. She has also written widely about culture and sex education, as well as LGBTQ+ and women's issues.