When prompted with which African-American individual has inspired me the most, many people came to mind. However, there is one African-American woman who I instantly thought of; without question, Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson has inspired and directly influenced my life to this day, due to her great personality, great contributions towards the LGBTQ+ community, and her queer advocacy that allow people like me to stand confidently today.
Marsha P. Johnson is unfortunately a name few are familiar with. Born on August 24, 1945, Johnson grew to become one of the most prominent activists of the gay rights movement circa 1960-1970s. Assigned male at birth, Johnson has always defied societal norms by enjoying and dressing in women’s clothes, and upon graduating high school she moved to New York City with only fifteen dollars and a bag of clothes. According to womenshistory.org, she identified herself as being gay, a drag-queen, and a transvestite, although nowadays we recognize Johnson’s identity as being a transgender woman, as the term ‘transgender’ only became common terminology following her death. Johnson was one of the people at the frontline of the Stonewall riot of 1969, an event spurred by a police raid which is often cited as one of the first incidents to prompt the movement against queer oppression. Johnson herself is often said to be the first to throw a brick at the riot and begin the fight for equality. Following this, Johnson became an active queer activist who specifically advocated for transgender and LGBTQ+ people of color who were often excluded from their community. In 1990, Johnson then became an advocate for the H.I.V epidemic, as she was diagnosed with the illness and became a verbose speaker on how those with the disease should not be feared.
As a queer student in a conservative town (similarly to Johnson), those who encourage strength, determination, and confidence regarding their identity are very inspirational to me. My own personal identity and community are incredibly important to my life and who I am, and I have Johnson to thank for contributing to a life I am now able to live. Without her contributions and bravery to be who she was, as well as others like her, who knows where we would be now. She inspires me every day to love who I am and not feel ashamed for it, either. The ‘P’ in her name stood for her motto, “pay it no mind”, which encourages confidence despite what others may think, which I find a fantastic way to go about living life. Not only do her political contributions inspire me, but her as a person does as well. Johnson was known as being talented and joyous, and was also a practicing Christian despite the scrutiny she faced. Overall, Johnson has inspired my life deeply, as I find her good attitude and faith aspirational, as well as her bravery, individuality, and contributions to the LGBTQ+ community that paved the way towards a better life for queer people like me.