Public invited to honor vanguard of LGBTQ civil rights movement

Marsha P. Johnson

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The family of Marsha P. Johnson, the city of Elizabeth, the Union County freeholder board and Garden State Equality invite the public to participate in the efforts to honor Johnson with a public monument in her hometown, celebrating both her roots in Elizabeth and her pivotal role in the vanguard of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement. The monument will be the first in the state of New Jersey to honor a member of the LGBTQ community and the first of a trans woman of color.

Those who wish to contribute to the monument project to honor Johnson’s legacy may do so online at gardenstateequality.org or charity.gofundme.com/mpjstatue.

Additionally, Garden State Equality is working with Johnson’s family to establish a scholarship — any funds raised in excess of the monument cost will go to a scholarship fund.

Also, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders invites artists to participate in the open call for submissions for the monument. Artists who are interested in submitting should have previous professional experience in sculpture and include documentation of previous work for reference in the proposal.

“Marsha wasn’t just about trans acceptance or just about gay rights — she was about change for everybody,” said Al Michaels, Johnson’s nephew. “History may not always remember Marsha’s accomplishments — this statue will enshrine her legacy into the fabric of this city.”

Freeholder Chairperson Alexander Mirabella said: “Fifty-one years ago, black and brown trans women — including Union County’s own Marsha P. Johnson from Elizabeth, New Jersey — led the Stonewall Uprising, fighting back against decades of injustice and police brutality. It’s more important than ever to remember our history, and the freeholder board is proud to join this effort to honor one of our own activists who in recent history paved the way.”

The Marsha P. Johnson monument project is a vision of Johnson’s family. With the support of the city of Elizabeth, Union County, Garden State Equality, generous donors and a sculpture artist, this monument will become a reality and stand as a symbol of LGBTQ influence in American history’s fight for civil rights.

“The milestones achieved in the LGBTQ rights and equality movement were made possible by trailblazers who first stood up for their rights,” Freeholder Sergio Granados said. “Marsha P. Johnson was a pioneer for the LGBTQ community, and the Union County freeholder board is proud to join the efforts to honor her legacy in such a meaningful way.”

As chairperson of the freeholder board in 2018, Granados established the Union County Office of LGBTQ Affairs, the only government office of its kind in the state of New Jersey to support the LGBTQ community.

“By honoring the memory of those we admire,” said Freeholder Rebecca Williams, who is the liaison to the Union County LGBTQ Ad Hoc Committee, “public monuments reflect who we are. I am proud of our community for recognizing Marsha P. Johnson as a leader in the continued fight to realize the ideals of liberty and equality upon which our nation was founded.”

Elizabeth Councilman at-large Manny Grova said that “It is an honor to recognize an Elizabeth native as influential and important to the history of the nation in the fight for equality everywhere. This past month, with Mayor Bollwage’s full support, Elizabeth City Council unanimously passed a resolution dedicating public land for the placement of a monument to honor Marsha P. Johnson.”

Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, said, “Our movement was born out of fire, bricks and blood at the Stonewall Riots over 50 years ago, where courageous drag queens and transgender women of color — people like New Jersey native Marsha P. Johnson — stood up, fought back and ignited our movement. It’s time the statues that line our streets represent all of America — we are honored to work with the city of Elizabeth and the county of Union to make this a reality. Most importantly, we look forward to collaborating with local black and brown trans women, and activists of all ages and races, that look up to Marsha to make this a reality.”

Garden State Equality is a vital partner in the effort to build the monument.

Johnson was a prominent figure in the gay liberation movement and a tireless advocate for homeless LGBTQ young people rejected by their families, those affected by H.I.V. and AIDS, and other marginalized groups. At age 23, she was a leader in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

After Stonewall, Johnson was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist with ACT UP and a co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, along with close friend and trans activist Sylvia Rivera.

Internationally, Johnson is one of the most recognized icons in LGBTQ history and has been celebrated in books, documentaries, and films. Her actions and words continue to inspire trans activism and resistance and will continue to do so well into the future.

Sculptors who are interested in participating in this effort can find the submission details online at ucnj.org/lgbtq or contact Danni Newbury, Union County Office of LGBTQ Affairs, at 908-527-4742 or dnewbury@ucnj.org.

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