“Pay it no mind.”
Marsha P. Johnson was a trans woman who was central in the LGBT community in New York City. She and Sylvia Rivera formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), primarily to help trans people like Marsha herself who faced countless obstacles (often including the lack of a permanent home or job) in their quests to just be themselves. Johnson’s signature line was that when people would ask her what the “P” stood for in her name, she would respond “Pay it no mind,” thus answering the inevitable question she dreaded of whether she was male or female. Marsha sometimes went into the male persona “Malcolm” (which she had been born into), but felt much more comfortable in the female persona “Marsha” and always strove to help others who felt more comfortable in a gender identity that did not map onto their biological identity. She lived in Greenwich Village and was right there throwing bricks at Stonewall, when a police raid of a queer nightclub turned into a declaration of LGBT solidarity and refusal to accept hateful and discriminatory treatment. This really sparked trans activism, and Johnson became the “Queen Mother” of STAR, a matriarchal rather than patriarchal system. Johnson also became involved in the Gay Liberation Front and the ACT-UP coalition and other groups during the AIDS crisis. Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River in 1992 and while police claimed it was a suicide, her close friends knew she had been harassed in that area earlier that day and believed it was homicide. (The case was recently re-opened as a homicide investigation, but there has been no resolution.) Throughout her life, which was prematurely cut short, Johnson was a fierce advocate and pioneer for trans rights.