This pride month, Google has been using their doodles to honor QTs of color, and today is Marsha P. Johnson. I’m very happy about the doodle, which is quite attractive, and has a whimsical flair that I imagine is appropriate, though I never did meet her:
There’s also a wonderful effort, reported by CNN, to replace a local statue of Christopher Columbus with one of Johnson in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey:
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, there’s another push to keep Johnson’s memory alive.
A 19-year-old woman has created a petition — which in less than two weeks has garnered more than 40,000 signatures — to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city with one of Johnson.
The creator, Celine Da Silva, told CNN she thinks an honor for the activist in her hometown is long overdue.
“Being that this is her hometown, I think that we should be celebrating her and honoring her here,” Da Silva told CNN. “And I think that the LGBT and queer community should be able to learn more about historic figures from their own community.”
Da Silva and her boyfriend have plans to bring up their demand to the city council next month. They say they hope a new monument for Johnson will be the first of many steps to create a more inclusive Elizabeth and one that celebrates minorities and LGBT figures like Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, was a central figure in the gay liberation movement
The late activist’s family, who still live in the New Jersey city today, say the movement to honor Johnson in her hometown gives them hope.
What I’m less happy about is the deadnaming by certain articles engendered by this doodle. For Rolling Stone, they feature Johnson’s deadname prominently, at the opening of their second paragraph:
Google has unveiled a new logo illustration (“Google Doodle”) for Marsha P. Johnson, the pioneering LGBTQ rights activist and self-identified drag queen who was a pivotal figure in the original Gay Liberation Front and the Stonewall Riots.
Born [Deadname]., on August 24th, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Johnson moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village upon graduating from high school, where she adopted her drag queen persona and legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. (The “P.” stood for “pay it no mind,” a phrase she allegedly used to describe her gender.)
I don’t speak for Johnson, but this trend (followed in other articles as well) doesn’t sit well with me. Regardless how Johnson described herself in life, we do know for sure that she legally changed her name (EDIT: it turns out that we don’t know this for sure), and I would think that it’s well known by know that this is disrespectful where legal name changes have happened and even in cases where a legal change hasn’t happened but the expressed wish of the individual is clear and/or context makes it clear that using a former name is no longer appropriate.
So I’m glad for Google, but I’m disappointed in how this is being covered in the press today.
Do better, writers. Do better.
ETA: In a comment by a casual reader (yes, that’s the name of the commenter, not my description) down below, there’s a link to the wikipedia talk page for the article about Marsha P Johnson. The people engaged in that discussion know a fuck of a lot more than I do about Johnson and claim that Johnson did not legally change names. Though they don’t cite sources for good information on some of their claims there, they aren’t hesitant to single out a couple of sources of bad information. They also sound quite certain about the no-legal-name-change thing, although I noted that there seems to be some equivocation going on between some people saying that there was no legal name change and others stating that Johnson’s birth certificate was not changed.
As someone who knows exactly how hard that is to do, especially when you no longer live in the state where you were born (although anywhere in New Jersey was at least physically closer to NYC than Sacramento or really any California court was to me when I was changing my ID), I’m not as worried about BirthCert gender/name as I am about something like a driver’s license or state ID card which would have been in Johnson’s power to change in the 90s, and I am even more concerned about the name actually used with the friends that Johnson most trusted and loved. From those best friends, from those most supportive family members, did Johnson want to be called only Marsha P Johnson? Did it change day to day? Month to month? For me that matters.
However, it also makes Rolling Stone’s choice more understandable. I still wish that they wouldn’t have done it. I simply don’t see the benefit unless this was how Johnson wanted to be addressed in the media, by and to people who would never meet Johnson in person. But in light of the uncertainty, my disappointment in Rolling Stone is lessened.