On the Day of Marsha Johnson’s Birthday, Guerrilla Memorial Pops Up by Stonewall

A new bust of Marsha P. Johnson at Christopher Park. (photo courtesy Michael Strachan)

A tribute to Marsha P. Johnson, the American LGBTQ rights advocate, performer, and drag queen, has gone up at Christopher Park in Manhattan — the first statue of a transgender person in New York City.

According to Gothamist, the Johnson monument was a long time coming: in 2019, the city promised to erect statues of two transgender individuals, Johnson and her Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) co-founder Sylvia Rivera, across from the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots for LGBTQ+ rights that catalyzed the gay liberation movement. The project was led by She Built NYC, a public arts group committed to correcting the gender gap in the city’s monuments — until now, only seven out of its 150 statues of historical figures depicted women.

Happy birthday, Marsha! Early this morning, a group of friends and I put up this bust of Marsha P Johnson in Christopher Park. It’s the city’s first statue of a trans person and – shockingly – only the 8th statue of a historical woman out of 800 monuments in NYC parks! pic.twitter.com/OljjrFD5Zs

— Eli Erlick (@EliErlick) August 24, 2021

However, the pandemic delayed the process, and this week, activists took matters into their own hands. Along with writer and organizer Eli Erlick, a group installed the tribute this Tuesday, August 24, on the date of Johnson’s 76th birthday.

Christopher Park is open seven days a week, “from dawn until dusk,” according to the National Park Service’s website. But at 4:30pm today, August 26, Hyperallergic reporter Hakim Bishara was met with locked gates preventing him from entering the space.

The NYC Parks Department has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

The new tribute with George Segal’s “Gay Liberation Monument” in the background. (photo by Hakim Bishara)

Erlick and her peers chose a spot next to George Segal’s “Gay Liberation Monument” from 1992, the year Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River, presumably by suicide.

“The NYC Parks permitting system is a long, subjective process,” Erlick told Gothamist. “Committees have historically used permitting to deny statues of people of color, women, and queer people, leaving the trans community without any representation.”

In the spirit of the artists’ guerrilla installation, a quote by Johnson is engraved on a plaque below the bust: “History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”

Hakim Bishara contributed reporting.

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