Ladies and Gentlemen Portfolio, 1975
Published June 2020
June is Pride Month, and this year there is additional cause for celebration. In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a long-awaited victory for the LGBTQ+ equality movement.
Transgender women and drag queens were often the subjects of Andy Warhol’s work in the 1960s and early 1970s. For Ladies and Gentlemen, Warhol’s staff recruited most of these Black and Brown models from the Gilded Grape, a drag bar in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York. For $50 each, these performers agreed to sit for photographic sessions with an anonymous “friend” (Warhol). Those Polaroids served as the source images for the print series presented here. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), an iconic figure from the LGBTQ+ community, was one of Warhol’s models, and is depicted in the bottom row, far left.
Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson is often credited with launching the Stonewall Riots. During a police raid at the Stonewall Inn gay bar and dance club on June 28,1969, Johnson–who alternately identified as gay, a drag queen, and a transvestite(her word)–was confronted by an officer. Johnson allegedly yelled, “I’ve got my civil rights” and threw a shot glass at the policeman. The act became known as “the shotglass heard around the world,” and the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement took hold with new commitment and intensity.
However, Marsha P. Johnson had been a civil rights activist long before Stonewall, and would continue to fight for LGBTQ+ civil rights long after. In 1970, Johnson and trans activist Sylvia Ray Rivera founded STAR–Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries–to support and shelter homeless queer and gender non-conforming teens. Often homeless herself, with few work prospects as a gender non-conforming woman of color, Johnson engaged in prostitution to earn money. HIV-positive since1990, she was also an outspoken AIDS activist.
A beloved and visible member of the LGBTQ+ community whose activism was inseparable from her life, Johnson was a fixture of Christopher Street in New York’s West Village neighborhood and a popular entertainer in the drag performance group Hot Peaches, which formed in 1972. A regular participant in New York’s annual Pride March, she was invited to ride in the lead car in 1980 in recognition of the pivotal role she played in the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2019, the City of New York announced that Johnson, along with Rivera, would be recognized for their contributions as activists with the first permanent, public artwork recognizing transgender women in the world. In 2020, Time magazine named Marsha P. Johnson as one of 100 Women of the Year of the last century for 1969, the year of the Stonewall Riots.