In 2019, the city announced a new monument would be coming to Christopher Park across from the Stonewall Inn, and it would be the first in New York City to honor transgender individuals—specifically, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two civil rights pioneers and activists who together founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) in 1970.
The project was announced through Chirlane McCray’s She Built NYC, which aims to make our city’s statues more diverse; of around 150 male historical statues, there are still only 6 female historical statues.
“The LGBTQ movement was portrayed very much as a white, gay male movement,” McCray said, adding that this new monument “counters that trend of whitewashing the history.”
The statue was supposed to go up this year, but there have not been any updates on its progress, and the city has not responded to a request for comment. Other planned statues on She Built NYC’s list have also not been erected yet, including Shirley Chisholm’s monument in Brooklyn, which was slated to go up last year.
In the meantime, a group of activists created their own tribute to Johnson and installed it in Christopher Park on Tuesday, which would have been Johnson’s 76th birthday.
“The statue didn’t receive a permit,” Eli Erlick told Gothamist. “The NYC Parks permitting system is a long, subjective process. Committees have historically used permitting to deny statues of people of color, women, and queer people, leaving the trans community without any representation.”
The current Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park, which went up in 1992, the same year Johnson was found dead in the Hudson River. It features two men standing, and two women sitting; it was cast in bronze but then painted white.
“Community members took the matter into their own hands,” Erlick added. “We have no intention of removing the statue and hope the city will recognize that now is the time to remember Black trans leaders.”
The bust of Johnson was created by members of several community groups over the past few months, and the group believes it is “the first statue of a trans person in an NYC park as well as the first to depict a participant in the historic Stonewall riots.”
The 11-acre East River State Park was renamed for Johnson last year.
The plaque features a quote from Johnson: “History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
One sculptor involved, Jesse Pallotta, stated, “At a time when we are taking down statues, I think it is just as important to collectively consider what is put up in public spaces, the process that is used to erect statues and reimagine the function of monumental work.”