Wittenberg Triangle, the proposed location for the monument honoring Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Image via Google Earth.
Days before the start of Pride Month, the city announced on Thursday that the next She Built NYC monument will honor two transgender activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, key leaders in the Stonewall Uprising that sparked the gay and LGBTQ rights movement in America. The monument is currently planned for Ruth Wittenberg Triangle in the heart of the Village and near other important LGBTQ neighborhood landmarks including the Stonewall Inn. The city is seeking artists interested in creating the public monuments honoring Johnson and Rivera in an open call.
Stonewal in in the Village. Image via Wikimedia cc.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, via the Department of Cultural Affairs, has committed up to $10 million over the next four years to commissioning new permanent public monuments and commemoration. First announced last June, She Built NYC is commissioning public art works to honor seven women who had an extraordinary impact on New York City. A memorial to Shirley Chisholm is underway with memorials of Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, Katherine Walker–and now Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera–to follow.
Johnson and Rivera, who met in 1963, founded STAR (renamed Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries in 2001) a housing and support organization for homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers. They were devoted advocates for LGBTQ rights and leaders in the Stonewall Uprisings, particularly focused on racial and economic justice for LGBTQ people who were dealing with homelessness and poverty. They were also active in helping young people of color who were marginalized by the efforts of the broader “Gay Liberation” movement. In addition, they were pioneers in healthcare access efforts.
Johnson, who died at age 46 in 1992, had been homeless for much of her life. Rivera was an orphan who lived on the streets since the age of 11 and resorted to prostitution to survive. She resurrected STAR as an advocacy vehicle for legislation that included the city’s Transgender Rights Bill.
Following the announcement of the new monument, First Lady Chirlane McCray said, “Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are undeniably two of the most important foremothers of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, yet their stories have been erased from a history they helped create. From their leading role at Stonewall, to their revolutionary work supporting transgender and non-binary youth in our city, they charted a path for the activists who came after them. Today, we correct the record. The city Marsha and Sylvia called home will honor their legacy and tell their stories for generations to come.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Transgender and non-binary communities are reeling from violent and discriminatory attacks across the country. Here in New York City, we are sending a clear message: we see you for who you are, we celebrate you, and we will protect you. This monument to Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will honor their pioneering role in the fight for human rights in our city and across the world.”
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