Call to replace Christopher Columbus statue with Marsha P Johnson

Queer icon Marsha P Johnson

Tens of thousands of people are calling for queer Stonewall Riots icon Marsha P Johnson to be honoured with a statue in her New Jersey home town.

Johnson was a transgender woman who is credited as one of three people who sparked the Stonewall Riots on 28 June 1969 after police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. These events are said to have launched the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

More than 50,000 people have now signed a petition demanding that the statue of Christopher Columbus in the city of Elizabeth be removed and replaced with a monument to Johnson. The petition’s creator, Celine Da Silva says that celebrating Columbus is glorifying European colonialism.

“Although it is widely taught that Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, he could not have ‘discovered’ land that was already occupied by indigenous groups,” she states.

Instead, Da Silva argues, “we should commemorate Marsha P. Johnson for the incredible things she did in her lifetime and for the inspiration she is to members of the LGBT+ community worldwide, especially black trans women.”

Post-Stonewall, Johnson remained an LGBTQ activist and participated in the Christopher Street Liberation Parade on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; this event would precede what we today know as Pride parades.

Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a radical political collective that provided support and housing to homeless queer youth and sex workers in Lower Manhattan.

She would later join ACT UP and became a prominent AIDS activist until her death in 1992 when her body was discovered floating in the Hudson River. It was initially ruled a suicide, but activist Mariah Lopez succeeding in getting the NYPD to reopen the case as a possible homicide in 2012 (although the case remains unsolved).

Statues to commemorate both Johnson and her friend and activist Sylvia Rivera are already set to be erected in Greenwich Village, with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio. These are believed to be among the first in the world to honour transgender individuals.

This June, Google featured a logo illustration, known as a “Google Doodle,” of Johnson on its search page to commemorate Pride Month.

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