Making Gay History: Marsha P. Johnson

A Conversation on Stonewall, STAR, and 42nd Street.
Grindr
&
Editorial team
June 22, 2022
February 20, 2024
5
min. read
Making Gay History: Marsha P. Johnson
Getty Images
Table of Contents

Journalist Eric Marcus, founder and host of the Making Gay History podcast, has interviewed many queer pioneers in his day, but there’s something special about his interview with trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, a beloved figure in the LGBTQ civil rights movement, and Randy Wicker, one of the most visible gay rights activists of the 1960s.

As part of our Pride series on queer history, Eric has distilled an excerpt of their conversation that focuses on the night of the Stonewall Rebellion. Check out their convo below and listen to the full Making Gay History episode here.

Marsha:  

The way I winded up being at Stonewall that night, I was having a party uptown. And we were all out there and Miss Sylvia Rivera and them were over in the park having a cocktail.

Eric Marcus, Host of “Making Gay History”

I was uptown and I didn’t get downtown until about two o’clock, because when I got downtown the place was already on fire.  And it was a raid already. The riots had already started.  And they said the police went in there and set the place on fire.  They said the police set it on fire because they originally wanted the Stonewall to close, so they had several raids.  And there was this, uh, Tiffany and, oh, this other drag queen that used to work there in the coat check room and then they had all these bartenders.  And the night before the Stonewall riots started, before they closed the bar, we were all there and we all had to line up against the wall and they was all searching us.

Eric:  

The police were?

Marsha:

Yeah, they searched every single body that came there.  Because, uh, the place was supposed to be closed, and they opened anyway. ‘Cause every time the police came, what they would do, they would take the money from the coat check room and take the money from the bar.  So if they heard the police were coming, they would take all the money and hide it up under the bar in these boxes, out of the register.  And, you know, and sometimes they would hide like under the floor or something?  So when the police got in all they got was the bartender’s tips.

Eric:  

Who went to the Stonewall?

Marsha:  

Well, uh, at first it was just a gay men’s bar.  And they didn’t allow no, uh, women in.  And then they started allowing women in.  And then they let the drag queens in.  I was one of the first drag queens to go to that place.  ‘Cause when we first heard about this…and then they had these drag queens workin’ there.  They didn’t never arrested anybody at the Stonewall.  All they did was line us up and tell us to get out.

Randy:  

Were you one of those that got in the chorus lines and kicked their heels up at the police, like, like Ziegfeld Follies girls or Rockettes?

Marsha:  

Oh, no.  No, we were too busy throwing over cars and screaming in the middle of the street, ‘cause we were so upset ‘cause they closed that place.

Eric:

What were you screaming in the street?

Marsha:  

Huh?

Eric:  

What did you say to the police?

Marsha:  

We just were saying, no more police brutality and, oh, we had enough of police harassment in the Village and other places.  Oh, there was a lot of little chants we used to do in those days.

Eric:  

Now were there lots of people hurt at the Stonewall that night during the riots?

{{video-inline-cta}}

Marsha:  

They weren’t hurt at the Stonewall.  They were hurt on the streets outside of the Stonewall ‘cause people were throwing bottles and the police were out there with those clubs and things and their helmets on, the riot helmets.

Eric:  

Were you afraid of being arrested?

Marsha:  

Oh, no, because I’d been going to jail for like ten years before the Stonewall I was going to jail ‘cause I was, I was originally up on 42nd Street.  And every time we’d go, you know, like going out to hustle all the time they would just get us and tell us we were under arrest. They’d say, “All yous drag queens under arrest, so we, you know, it was just for wearing a little bit of makeup down 42nd Street.

Eric:  

Who were the kinds of people you met up at 42nd Street when you were hustling up there.

Marsha:  

Oh, this was all these queens from Harlem, from the Bronx.  A lot of them are dead now. I mean, I hardly ever see anybody from those days. But these were like queens from the Bronx and Brooklyn, from New Jersey, where I’m from.  I’m from Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Eric:  

Now you mentioned an organization that…you were involved with.  What was the name?

Marsha:  

Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with Miss Sylvia Rivera.

Randy:  

STAR.

Eric:  

What was that group about?  What was it for?

Marsha:  

Ah, it was a group for transvestites… men and women transvestites.

Randy:

It was a bunch of flakey, fucked up transvestites living in a hovel and a slum somewhere calling themselves revolutionaries.  That’s what it was in my opinion.  Now Marsha has a different idea.

Eric:  

What’s your opinion?

Marsha:  

Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries started out as a very good group.  It was after Stonewall, they started, they started at GAA.  Mama Jean DeVente, who used to be the marshal for all the parades.  She was the one that talked Sylvia Rivera into leaving GAA, ‘cause Sylvia Rivera who was the president of STAR was a member of GAA, and start a group of her own. And so she started Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.  And she asked me would I come be the vice president of that organization.  The building was owned by Michael Umbers, who was in jail.  And didn’t Michael Umbers, when he went to jail, the city took over the building and they had everybody thrown out. But originally the rent was paid to Michael Umbers who went to jail, and Bubbles Rose Lee, Bubbles Rose Lee, who was secretary to STAR, she had all kinds of things around the building and stuff, you know.  So the city just came and closed the building down.

Curious about Stonewall? Check out these episodes of Making Gay History to learn more.                        

Share this article

Find & Meet Yours

Get 0 feet away from the queer world around you.
Thank you! Your phone number has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll text you a link to download the app for free.
Table of Contents
Share this article
“A great way to meet up and make new friends.”
- Google Play Store review
Thank you! Your phone number has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll text you a link to download the app for free.
“A great way to meet up and make new friends.”
- Google Play Store review
Discover, navigate, and get zero feet away from the queer world around you.
Already have an account? Login

Browse bigger, chat faster.

Find friends, dates, hookups, and more

Featured articles

Related articles

Find & Meet Yours

4.6 · 259.4k Raiting