Marsha P. Johnson (Marsha used he/she pronouns interchangeably) was 16 years old when he married Jesus in church. In an interview Marsha, she shared that she never married anyone in church ever since because she believed that, “[Jesus] was the only man I could ever trust.”
Marsha was a prominent figure in the LGBT community in New York City in an era where to be queer was more than being sexually suspect, but made you a target for unspeakable violence, abuse, and marginalization, and imprisonment. Shock “therapy” and spiritual manipulation and abuse was common place. It was an incredibly dark time to be Queer.
Marsha’s leadership in her community was one of joy and freedom– known for a beaming smile and generous spirit. Marsha was a drag queen that frequented the Stonewall Inn. Stonewall opened in 1967 and quickly became the most prominent gay bar in the country.
It became a haven for free expression of queerness, and was a sanctuary for the most marginalized of the LGBT community—homeless youth, drag queens, and transgender people, amongst others.
As much as Stonewall was a safe space, it was subject to frequent police raids, as all gay establishments were.
On June 28, 1969, a police raid, much more aggressive and dehumanizing than the typical raid, set off a series of events that would launch a worldwide movement for gay liberation. As police dragged patrons of Stonewall into the street, beating them, verbally and sexually harassing them, rounding them up like animals, something visceral was stirring in Marsha and the others. A boiling point had been reached.
I believe that at our core, our spirits know that we were created to be free. Marsha embodied this freedom in the intersection of both her blackness and his queerness. The world believed that people like Marsha were less than human, savage animals, but in the middle of the cry and fight for liberation from marginalized peoples, Marsha knew he was meant to be free.
This freedom that Marsha knew, the promise of a liberated abundant life of flourishing, is at the heart of the Gospel.
Hear this Good News, from John’s Gospel:
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?
They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.
But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.
But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
When they hear it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.
Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
John 8:3-12, NASB
The Scribes and Pharisees commit an obscene and inhumane act of evil.
This woman, caught in the act of adultery, is dragged into the streets, likely naked and exposed, into the center of the temple courts and thrown at the feet of Jesus. The man involved in this act of adultery is nowhere to be found. Jesus’ initial response is one of those seemingly stoic moments of His where I am left infuriated at his apparent lack of outrage.
If I have come to learn anything, it’s that I can always expect Jesus to subvert expectations. He waits. As he waits he is further pressured by the forces of religious evil that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees have become. His simple challenge to them forces them out of the court and leaves this woman at the center.
The woman, and Jesus, in the middle of the court of the House of the Lord. Jesus proclaims liberty to this captive. It was if Jesus were saying,
“I am your groom, you are my bride. I do not condemn you. Go and be free.”
Marsha P. Johnson certainly had heard this story in her time growing up in church. She likely knew that the only Man she ever trusted would be the One to bring her liberation. So, even in the middle of the chaos of the police raid on June 28, Marsha knew she was meant to be free.
Marsha took hold of her freedom, taking up a shot glass and throwing it against a mirror, yelling, “I got my civil rights!” She cast no stone against her oppressors, instead he let out a cry and with the shattering of glass she saw a movement born.
Known as the shot glass that was heard around the world, the street kids who had been used, abused, and objectified, rallied around Marsha and set off what is now known as the Stonewall Riots.
Marsha followed her Husband out of darkness into the liberating light of life, and in doing so set in motion a series of events that would lead to freedoms that he may have never imagined. The first Pride march was a direct result of Marsha’s bravery. Today we are free to legally marry and adopt children. We owe these freedoms and so many others to Marsha.
However, as we march in pride parades and celebrate where we are, we must remember the work that Marsha began and realize that there is so much work yet to do. The movement is not over yet.
2016 was the deadliest year on record for LGBT people; 2017 is already one of the most violent years for transgender people. The tragedy at the Pulse nightclub last June is one example of how it remains incredibly dangerous to be a LGBT person in this country—especially as a person of color. You can still be fired for being LGBT in 28 states.
The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that there are 2.5 million homeless children in the U.S., of which 40% identify as LGBT. Those homeless youth identify family religious beliefs and church abuse as the reasons for being forced in to the street.
We are free and un-condemned. Our queerness is not sin. Jesus has freed us from shame and humiliation. Like Marsha, we must take hold of our freedom.
Marsha, a Black Drag Queen, began our march into the liberating light of life. We must honor her, take up his torch, and lead our community into the liberation of Jesus, the light of the world.