The New York Times released a beautiful feature honoring women who were ignored over the years in their obituaries. “Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky,” the Times wrote. “The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly White ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.” The legendary outlet added, “Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked.”
Some of the obituaries include iconic activist Ida B. Wells, writer Sylvia Plath and Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells are one of the most important cell lines in medical research (the cells were taken without her consent). There is also an obituary written for transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson who was murdered in 1992. Read below:
“Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, a prostitute, a drag performer and, for nearly three decades, a fixture of street life in Greenwich Village. She was a central figure in a gay liberation movement energized by the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn. She was a model for Andy Warhol. She battled severe mental illness. She was usually destitute and, for much of her life, effectively homeless.
When she died at 46, under murky circumstances, in summer 1992, Johnson was mourned by her many friends, but her death did not attract much notice in the mainstream press.”
Not sure who wrote this obituary of Marsha P. Johnson, but they seriously failed. One, why is “a prostitute” the second word used to describe her? Is that necessary in an obit to honor her? To mention “prostitution” without a reference to the structural underpinnings of exploitation is seriously offensive.
Two, Johnson wasn’t just a “central figure in gay liberation movement.” She is credited as the one who sparked the 1969 Stonewall riot when she threw a shot glass during a police raid of the Stonewall bar.
Lastly, “usually destitute”? An unnecessary description of Marsha’s life. Yes, her life came with challenges, like everyone, but this obit minimizes Marsha into a tragedy, far from honoring her. Here is how the NYT should’ve honored Marsha P. Johnson.
“Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, performer and, for nearly three decades, a fixture in Greenwich Village, New York. She, along with activist Sylvia Rivera, is credited as sparking the 1969 Stonewall riots, which is a watershed moment in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Johnson was a model for Andy Warhol and a self-identified drag queen who paved the way for drag culture.
When she died in New York City at 46, under murky circumstances, in summer 1992, Johnson was honored throughout Greenwich Village, but her death was wrongly ignored by the New York Times and several other mainstream outlets.”
Rest in power, Marsha P. Johnson.