Marsha P. Johnson and the Long Awaited Repeal of the “Walking While Trans” Ban

By Cassandra Castillo, Asst. Features Editor–

After hearing that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo repealed an anti-loitering law otherwise known as the “walking while trans” ban, I wanted to put the spotlight on Civil Rights Activist Marsha P. Johnson who fought against that law decades ago.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the bill, mentioned that Johnson and Activist Sylvia Rivera were the reason he was able to marry his husband. He also tweeted that he owed transgender women of color the world. The repeal further affirms that black trans lives matter and that they will finally get the recognition they deserve.   

Last February, Cuomo moved to rename one of New York’s eight state parks after Johnson in honor of her 75th birthday. She resided in New York where she was a catalyst for the LGBT movement during the mid 1900’s until her tragic death in 1992. 

Johnson made history in a time where being in the LGBT community was under extreme scrutiny. LGBTQ+ people were often arrested on questionable charges during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. This led to the Stonewall Uprising that took place in 1969, which Johnson and Rivera were known to have instigated. This uprising was a monumental movement that began the first pride marches across the nation. 

Despite the protests in the late 60’s, the anti-loitering law came into effect in 1976. It targeted prostitution, but ended up profiling transgender women. In 2018 alone there were 152 people arrested and 91% of them were people of color. The law was in place for nearly 45 years and accounted for discrimination and unnessesary improsonment.

Johnson and Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), “which clothed, fed, housed, and advocated for transgender youth from a tenement on the lower eastside,” according to BlackPast. Johnson was also a founder of the Gay Liberation Front (GLP), a political group that fought for gay rights and justice for those in the community. 

The self-identifying drag queen spoke out about the injustices that took place during her time and now an advocacy group named after Johnson speaks out about the injustices of today. They were one of several organizations that celebrated the repeal of the 1976 law. 

We will have to wait and see what progressive states follow New York and begin repealing their own anti-loitering laws. It will only help strengthen the ideas that people like Marsha “Pay no mind” Johnson fought for.

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