Metro Weekly

New York governor dedicates state park in memory of LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson

Newly-dedicated state park will feature large-scale art installations commemorating Johnson's life and legacy

new york, park, marsha p johnson
An artist’s rendering of the planned upgrades to Marsha P. Johnson State Park – Photo: New York State Parks and Historic Sites.

On Monday, to commemorate the 75th birthday of transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has renamed the East River State Park after Johnson and dedicated it in her honor to recognize the role she played as a key and influential figure during the early years of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.

Over the next year, the state will improve park facilities and install public arts installations celebrating Johnson’s life and her role in advancing LGBTQ rights. On Monday, the park installed art in the shape of flowers near the North 8th Street main gate, and on the corner of North 7th Street and Kent Avenue, in recognition of Johnson’s tendency to adorn her attire with colorful flowers. 

The park also placed interpretive signage outlining Johnson’s life and explaining her influence within the LGBTQ rights movement, as well as her advocacy on behalf of people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

The seven-acre park, which is one of eight state parks in New York City, offers a view of the Manhattan skyline, as well as a beach, a meadow, the remnants of a historic rail yard, a playground, a dog run, and picnicking facilities. Admission is free and the park is open to the public. Cuomo had previously announced plans to rename the park in February during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala.

Other installments, scheduled for completion by the summer of 2021, include a new park house, shaped like an enclosed barge container, that will serve as an education center, housing classroom space, public bathrooms, a park ranger contact station, and a small storage area; an art installation celebrating various aspects of Johnson’s life on two parallel foundation walls, creating an outdoor gallery; and decorative exterior wall treatments that match the decorations on the park house and the installation.

“Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing the park dedication.

“Marsha P. Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement, and is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves,” Cuomo continued. “Dedicating this state park for her, and installing public art telling her story, will ensure her memory and her work fighting for equality lives on.”

See also: 50 on Stonewall: The LGBTQ community on the lasting impact of the historic uprising 

Johnson, a longtime advocate and activist who settled in Greenwich Village, was one of the leaders of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, and later established a shelter to support LGBTQ youth who had been kicked out of their homes or disinherited by their families.

She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist with ACT UP, and a co-founder of the transgender activist group STAR, along with fellow activist Sylvia Rivera. She died in 1992, at age 46. The investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death remains unsolved.

An artist’s rendering of future plans for Marsha P. Johnson State Park – Photo: New York State Parks and Historic Sites, via Flickr.

“New York is the proud birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement with the Stonewall Uprising more than 50 years ago,” New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “The Marsha P. Johnson State Park honors the transgender woman of color who led the fight for equal rights and justice for all. With the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, now more than ever we must continue the fight for LGBTQ equality and racial justice in our society.”

“Our parks in North Brooklyn are visited by thousands of people every year from across Brooklyn and the city. Open spaces are the jewels of any neighborhood and are used for recreation and leisure by people from every walk of life,” New York City Council Member Stephen Levin said in a statement. “To have one of our local parks named after someone as influential and important to the history of our city and the fight for equality everywhere is an honor.

“Marsha P. Johnson spent her life fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and and to bring dignity and respect to so many New Yorkers,” Levin said. “The new name and planned improvements to the park will show our commitment to providing world class public spaces for everyone.”

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