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    The Legacy of Marsha P. Johnson

    By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She has resumed teaching that groundbreaking class. In this column, her students share their thoughts about LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more. Each of the below paragraphs was written by a student from grades 10–12 after watching the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson (1945–1992) was a transgender activist who participated in the Stonewall Riots and was found dead a few decades later in the Hudson River. Johnson’s death was originally ruled a suicide, but many now believe that she was murdered.)

    Watching The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson by David France in our LGBTQ class opened up my eyes to all of the unheard voices within the community and how neglected transgender individuals have been since the beginning of the LGBTQ movement. I believe that this movie should be presented to more students and even more adults to raise awareness of all the unequal treatment towards transgender individuals. This documentary made me sad and happy at the same time. I was sad that Marsha’s death was swept under the rug like dust, yet happy that she has impacted so many lives and brought hope to people. As a class, we also had the great opportunity to Skype with the director of the film and ask him multiple questions while he explained the birth of his project and the ups and downs that he faced during the process of making it.

    Although I had heard of Martha P. Johnson and her fame in New York City, I had no idea that she was murdered. This is often the case with queer history. The only parts that are even remotely known are those regarding performers and famous people. It is important that this practice changes. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson helps to broaden our understanding of queer history.

    As a transgender woman, The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson really spoke to me on a personal level. It was heartbreaking to find out that the murders of trans women, and especially trans women of color, aren’t seen as important to the justice system. It’s so wonderful to know that there are a few people like Victoria Cruz out there who are trying their hardest to avenge Marsha and all of our other fallen trans brothers and sisters. I have a feeling that this film will spark a discussion in our country, and hopefully tie some loose ends.

    I had never heard Marsha P. Johnson’s name in my life until watching the documentary by David France. Marsha was an enthusiastic, passionate transwoman who was murdered in New York in 1992. Her story is barely told elsewhere, which is why I was excited to be able to talk with the director about his work and to thank him for teaching others about Marsha. If you have time, please watch the film as well. It’s on Netflix and it is well worth watching!

    The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is an intriguing film that delves into past abuses in order to shine a light on current ones, specifically in the trans community. While the movie is beautifully done and the messages conveyed are inspiring, the true power of the movie lies in the way in which activists are utilizing the film to bring awareness to their local communities. The director, David France, notified us of the many contexts in which the film has been shared since its release only a short while ago. The most touching story was one in which an Arkansas town, after the murder of a trans woman in the community, shared the film to help educate, grieve, and give hope. David France has helped to advocate for the rights of the T in LGBTQ that is so often forgotten.

    Thank you to David France, director of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, for giving us an inside look into his documentary. The film touched on an important story that is often lost in mainstream and even LGBTQ+ media due to inter-controversiality in the community. The film sheds light on just how hostile and forgetful a community can be on a figure who did so much for them. It was an astonishing and eye-opening film, and provided a progressive outlook on documentaries in general. 

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit