If you happened to venture to Google this morning, no doubt you caught a glimpse of an American hero—one who is largely responsible for instigating the LGBTQ+ liberation movement as we know it today. Marsha P. Johnson was one of the leaders of the Stonewall uprising in 1969—50 years later on June 30, 2019, she was posthumously honored as a grand marshal of the New York City Pride March; the same year the city of New York announced plans to erect statues of Johnson and friend and fellow LGBTQ+ activist Sylvia Rivera in Greenwich Village, which will become one of the world’s first monuments to honor transgender people. This February, it was also announced that East River State Park in the city’s borough of Brooklyn will be renamed in Johnson’s honor.
But in life, Johnson—not only an activist but a performer and self-identified drag queen—was largely overlooked for her efforts in pioneering the movement that continues to this day. Born Malcolm Michaels Jr. in Elizabeth, N.J. on August 24th, 1945, Johnson legally changed her name after migrating to New York City’s Greenwich Village and finding a home among a growing community of LGBTQ+ people. As Google notes, “her middle initial—“P.”—allegedly stood for her response to those who questioned her gender: ‘Pay It No Mind.’”
Thankfully, Google—along with much of the LGBTQ+ communities and its allies—is paying Johnson mind, partnering with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI) and Los Angeles-based guest artist Rob Gilliam to illustrate today’s Google Doodle honoring Johnson on the final day of Pride Month. In a statement about their revolutionary honoree provided to The Glow Up, they wrote:
A beloved and charismatic fixture in the LGBTQ+ community, Johnson is credited as one of the key leaders of the 1969 Stonewall uprising— widely regarded as a critical turning point for the international LGBTQ+ rights movement. The following year, she founded the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with fellow transgender activist Sylvia Rivera. STAR was the first organization in the U.S. to be led by a trans woman of color and was the first to open North America’s first shelter for LGBTQ+ youth.
“As a queer person of color, I owe Marsha so much,” said Gilliam, explaining that he was inspired by Marsha’s “vibrant personality and the iconic New York architecture” she and her community marched through. “She was the catalyst for our liberation, the driving force behind the movement that has given many of us the rights and freedoms that we previously couldn’t even dream of. Marsha created a space for us in western society through her empowering bravery and refusal to be silenced.
“Marsha knew that the true key to liberation was intersectionality. The original pride movement pulled in participants from across the lines of class and race and sexuality and gender expression and united an entire community,” Gilliam continued, adding: “Recent times have been extremely divisive, and it’s far too easy to fixate on what separates us as opposed to celebrating the commonalities we share. I think we could all be a little more like Marsha in that respect. Everyone has their own unique, powerful, vibrant identity— and when we embrace these differences, we take a step towards building stronger communities.”
Elle Hearns, founder and executive director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute also shared her thoughts on Google’s tribute and Johnson’s indelible impact, which read, in part:
For so long, Marsha’s history has only been heralded by the LGBTQ community. Today’s Doodle will help teach her story to many more around the world, and about the work that has been historically ignored and often purposely left out of history books. Today’s Doodle of Marsha reminds people that Black and LGBTQ+ history is bigger than just a month; it is something to be honored every single day.
In 2015, I had a vision of creating an entity that would uplift Marsha’s work and Black trans women. I felt there was no specific organization that prioritized the needs and skills that I and other Black trans women had or provided a safe space for us. I wanted to interrupt the systemic and structural turbulence that held me back. I wanted to create a space where Black trans women could find refuge, enrich skills, learn from one another, collaborate together, and have job opportunities. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute was created to do just that, to give Black trans women a space to not only survive, but to flourish. Our collective brilliance deserves to exist inside and outside of nonprofit spaces. In that spirit, The MPJI was born.
Hearns pointed to the June 14 Brooklyn Liberation gathering in support of Black trans lives outside of New York’s Brooklyn Museum as evidence of the continuation of the work Johnson began a half-century ago. Google is joining that effort, donating $500,000 to the MPJI, which “works to end violence against Black Trans women across the United States and create a world where they are safe, valued, and treated with human dignity,” reads the statement.
Expounding on their donation, Google explains that the funding builds on A recent $2.4 million commitment to support LGBTQ+ community nonprofits around the world. Directly addressing the needs of the moment, the funds will provide direct cash assistance to Black trans people through the organization’s COVID-19 relief efforts.
“This moment is a testament to our movement, and the amount of time and sacrifices Black trans people have made to contribute to something bigger than all of us,” said Hearns, praising Google’s partnership as a bold action that demonstrated trust in Black trans leaders. “I hope the collaboration between The MPJI and Google.org will serve as an opportunity for the world to interrupt its own fixation on transphobia and fear of redistributing wealth to communities that need it most. This is life-long work. Black trans women have always been here and will continue to be.”