Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two iconic LGBTQ people of color, are celebrated in a mural in Dallas, Texas.
The 2,100-square foot artwork, created by local non-profit Arttitude, was installed in May 2019, ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising last summer.
Both Rivera and Johnson participated in the seminal Stonewall uprising in June 1969, which were sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The subsequent nights of rioting helped pave the way for the modern pride movement.
Johnson and Rivera also advocated for the plight of homeless and disadvantaged youth. At a time before the common use of the word transgender, the two friends co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) group in 1970. They were also played roles in the fledgling Gay Liberation Front.
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Both gender non-conforming, Johnson and Rivera adopted various labels throughout their lives. Rivera resurrected STAR in 2001, changing the word “transvestite” to “transgender.”
You can find out about both of them by watching the award-winning documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, on Netflix.
Marsha P. Johnson was born in 1945 and began wearing dresses at an early age, according to surviving family members.
Following a lifetime of advocacy, she died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances. Police found her body floating in the Hudson River, near the infamous Greenwich Village piers. Although authorities ruled her death as suicide, some believe others could have been involved.
Sylvia Rivera was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent. Born in New York City in 1951, she began living on the streets at the age of 11. As a child, she was raised by her maternal grandmother. However, the older woman disapproved when Sylvia began to wear makeup, leading to a breakdown in their relationship.
A group of drag queens and trans women took in the young Rivera and gave her the name Sylvia. She died in 2002 following complications related to liver cancer.
Since their deaths, the legacy of both Johnson and Rivera has grown, with many recognizing and heralding their work battling against transphobia, homophobia, and racism.
The Dallas mural can be found on the side of a building in Cedar Springs. Commenting at the time of its unveiling, to mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, artist Brian Kenny said, “This mural represents the trans women of color who were key figures in that riot and also key figures in the start of the queer liberation movement.
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“This mural is to honor them and to give more visibility, love, and attention to the transgender community.
“I had Marsha looking up and next to her is a very famous quote of hers – ‘pay it no mind,'” Kenny said. “Because she was always above it all. She never let anything get to her. She was accepting of everybody.
“I had Sylvia Rivera looking right at the viewer because she was the one who was always in your face – screaming into the microphone for gay rights.”
The mural also includes a quote from Rivera: “I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist … I am glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molokov cocktail, I thought ‘My God, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!”
The Dallas mural is at 4008 Cedar Springs Road on the side of the Cedar Springs Tattoo & Piercing.
Last year, the city of New York announced it was also planning a permanent installation to Johnson and Rivera. The $750,000 memorial will be located in the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, a small triangular patch on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Greenwich Avenue, near the Stonewall Inn. It is hoped to be unveiled in 2021.
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Tonight at 8pm EST on the Facebook Live of @arttitude_dfw I’ll be talking about my experience at this time one year ago when I was painting a massive 2,100 sq ft mural honoring the Stonewall 50th and pioneering trans right activists and women of color Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Link in bio.