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Why You Should Remember Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was a trans-rights activist and an important figure in the LGBTQ+ community.

She inspired countless Queer people to stand up against bigotry and discrimination through her charisma and involvement in LGBTQ+ history.

The Story Behind “Pay It No Mind”

Johnson’s chosen initial “P” stood for “Pay It No Mind”, her common response for those who’d ask about her gender. She rejected being put into a box and often used both “he” and “she” pronouns and wore clothing labelled ‘male and ‘female’. She also identified as a drag queen, as well as “gay” and a “transvestite”. During her life, she became a famous figure for the LGBTQ+ community in New York. 

Photograph from Netflix

The Stonewall Riots

On 28th June 1969, a raid was conducted by police at ‘The Stonewall Inn’ – a safe place for many homeless LGBTQ+ youths in New York. Following the raid, Johnson was a pivotal member of a series of uprisings in protest of the attack along with her fellow transgender activist and friend Sylvia Rivera.

On the one-year anniversary of the rebellion, thousands marched the streets and marked one of America’s first pride events. 

Marsha P. Johnson, Joseph Ratanski and Sylvia Rivera in the 1973 NYC Gay Pride Parade by Gary LeGault

Marsha P. Johnson’s Activism 

The pair also founded Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries – STAR in 1970. This organisation fought to help people facing the struggles of an unaccepting society and provided a space to discuss issues facing the transgender community in New York. They rented a building called STAR House to provide shelter for trans sex workers and LGBTQ+ youth. It was the first of its kind in North America. 

Marsha was also an early AIDS activist and was HIV positive herself. She took care of many people with AIDS on their deathbeds and was vital in making the connection between gay rights and human rights.

Despite struggling with mental illness throughout her life and being in and out of psychiatric hospitals, Johnson dedicated most of her life to helping others. 

She is still a very prominent figure in the fight for Black trans rights, a group that is still disproportionately impacted and faces some of the highest levels of discrimination. 

During Cardiff Pride 2022, let us remember Marsha P. Johnson – a figure who helped the fight for equality.

Photograph from Diana Davies/Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library

Related Information

​​For more information on where to seek advice in Cardiff visit TheSprout’s LGBTQ+ page.

If you would like to talk to anyone about any theme within this article or similar issues, please contact Meic. Meic is the national information, advice and advocacy helpline for children and young people in Wales. Phone: 080880 23456 // Txt: 84001 // Online chat:

Interested in LGBTQ+ organisations in Cardiff? Check out Cardiff Youth Service’s website.

Are you exploring your identity, or do you identify as a trans or non-binary young person in Cardiff? The Amber Project offers workshops and free counselling services and practical support. Click here if you’re interested.

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