A still from a film with transgender rights activist Martha P Johnson wearing a red dress and holding a book on a stage with a backdrop of silver sparkly curtains
Marsha P. Johnson was one of the most prominent figures of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. Johnson was an important advocate for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, those effected by H.I.V. and AIDS, and gay and transgender rights.

She founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) collective in 1970 alongside Sylvia Rivera. Both played a role in the Stonewall uprising, which took place in New York in June 1969. This was a series of protests by members of the LGBTQIA+ community against targeted police harassment. This uprising is the spark that ignited the LGBTQIA+ rights movement in the US and is the reason why we celebrate Pride Month in June today.

For Pride 2024, we’re remembering and celebrating the activists who came before us and why and how it started. As well as a celebration of culture, Pride continues to be a vital protest, highlighting the ongoing pursuit of equality for LGBTQIA+ communities.

Happy Birthday, Marsha! is a film by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel, who met campaigning for transgender rights, economic justice, and prison abolition. The film is a fictional reimagining of Johnson’s life in the hours that led up to the Stonewall uprising. The work pays homage to the critical role transgender activists played in the gay liberation movement. It also reminds us of the influence of LGBTQIA+ activism on feminism and vice versa, in particular how the fight against discrimination and to live in the world on our own terms are shared goals of both.

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Writing for Teen Vogue, Tourmaline says: “So much of what Marsha had to deal with remains a reality for many of us. Marsha’s history has helped me make plain the connections between the historical erasure of trans women of color from the LGBT movement, and contemporary forms of anti-black transphobic violence happening today. Her image and ideas were extracted throughout her life, while she experienced so much violence – from the police, the outside world, and often from lesbian and gay activists and artists. It is this kind of violent extraction — of black life, trans life, queer life, disabled life, poor life — that leads so many of us to hold our ideas close to our chests; to never let the world see how brightly we shine. Until all of our ideas and lives are celebrated and given the resources we need and deserve, so much of our brilliance will remain hidden out of fear of our lives and labor being violated and appropriated.”

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Happy Birthday, Marsha! is on display at the South London Gallery as part of Acts of Resistance: Photography, Feminisms and the Art of Protest. The exhibition is free to visit and runs from 8 March  – 9 June 2024.

This is a collaborative exhibition between the SLG and the Victoria and Albert Museum, (V&A) as part of the V&A Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project.

Curated by Sarah Allen, Head of Programme, South London Gallery and Fiona Rogers, The V&A’s Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography, with Lily Tonge, Curator, Exhibitions and Events, South London Gallery. Public Programme Curator: Lola Olufemi

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