The Lives of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be immortalized in a monument down the street from the Stonewall Inn for their work as transgender activists. Here's what you need to know about them. Special thanks to Making Gay History - The Podcast.

Honoring Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Marsha P. Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels Jr. in 1945 in New Jersey. In 1963, she moved to New York City with “$15 and a bag of clothes.” Ray Rivera, who would later take the name Sylvia, was born in 1951 in the Bronx, NY. She began living on her own at 10 as a child sex worker. Rivera and Johnson met on Halloween night in 1963. Both drag performers, they faced consistent harassment — particularly from the police.

On June 28, 1969, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn — a gay bar in Greenwich Village igniting six days of protests. Many legends have grown around the event. There's been a persistent myth that Marsha P. Johnson threw the first shot glass, which she herself said didn't happen. She said herself in an interview with Eric Marcus that she didn't arrive at the Stonewall Inn that night until 2:00 a.m. By then things were already in full effect. The Stonewall riots became heralded as a turning point of the LGBTQIA movement. In 1970, Johnson joined Rivera in founding Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), to advocate for young transgender people. STAR did a lot of street action, and they also ended up having several apartments, that they would use to house, they called them transvestites at the time.

Rivera became involved with the Gay Liberation Front. But as she says as she was pushing back against the white LGBTQIA establishment to fight for rights for all, the organizations pushed the two activists out. Rivera, who attempted suicide after giving that speech, left activism, and New York, in 1973. In the mid-1970s, Johnson became a muse to Andy Warhol. In the 1980s, she joined the AIDS action group ACT UP. On July 6, 1992 her body was pulled from the Hudson River.

Her death was quickly ruled a suicide, then revised to an unexplained drowning. Many close to her think she was murdered. Her case was reopened in 2012 and remains open. After Johnson’s death, Rivera struggled with addictions. But, by 2001, she was sober, and marching in pride parades. In 2002, she died of liver cancer. On May 2019, the City of New York announced plans to build a statue honoring the lives of Johnson and Rivera.


06/28/2019 10:35 PMupdated: 07/01/2019 12:53 PM


  • Abraham M.
    09/07/2021 16:30

    RIP: Marsha P. Johnson’s

  • Connie H.
    07/31/2019 01:32

    I'm pretty offended already! There should be no statues!!

  • Pat M.
    07/30/2019 17:12

    Wonderful history

  • Howie J.
    07/30/2019 03:29

    That is the hardest I've laughed in a long time that's so funny got to be a joke right

  • Yahko Y.
    07/29/2019 03:12

    I don't understand in the 1960s this was declared a mental illness but today its socially accepted, whoever is complicit is mentally ill

  • Jeremiah I.
    07/28/2019 02:13

    Throw all abomination in the lake of fire

  • Louie M.
    07/27/2019 23:05

    What turned these whatever's around. A learned trait from their family atmosphere. They weren't born this way, there's no such thing as a Gay gene, you were taught this buy your parents or people you hung out with.

  • Tony D.
    07/27/2019 19:45

    Abomination end of story

  • Uloma P.
    07/25/2019 23:46


  • Clotine A.
    07/24/2019 10:45

    So she was kick out of the LGBT for being black?

  • Carl R.
    07/23/2019 23:25

    We know everything there is to know about them they are psychologically unstable

  • Janet S.
    07/23/2019 17:30

    Innovative force. In the future.

  • C S.
    07/23/2019 11:49

    Loved this time... We supported each other..

  • Gayle B.
    07/23/2019 02:44

    So we can tear down statues of our history but we can put up statues for this. Shouldn't we as a nation be proud of both??

  • Erica M.
    07/21/2019 10:36

    Can I report this ,you big bully take it off my time line it’s very sad

  • Marchetta H.
    07/21/2019 01:07

    So glad for them

  • LeKenya R.
    07/21/2019 00:30

    I'm glad they opened her case back up.

  • Holden B.
    07/19/2019 17:37

    Raymond Purdon Jr

  • Christine G.
    07/17/2019 03:10

    Live and let live

  • Allen J.
    07/17/2019 02:44

    I don't need to know anything about this.