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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: Life of LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P. Johnson and her legacy at Stonewall

June 28, 2022

 

 

Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, a leader of the LGBTQ community in the 1950s to 1990s and an important figure during the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. Watch this video and answer questions to discuss Johnson, her legacy and the fight for LGBTQ rights.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the life and legacy of Marsha P. Johnson and other LGBTQ activists
  • Understand the history of LGBTQ rights and discrimination
  • Learn vocabulary and topics relating to gender identity, gender expression and sexuality

Subjects

LGBTQ, Activism, Protest, Gay Rights, Civics, U.S. History

Estimated Time

30 minutes

Full Lesson

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For a Google version of this lesson plan, click here. (Note: you will need to make a copy of the document to edit it).

Background

Born in 1945, Marsha was born as Malcolm Michaels in Elizabeth, New Jersey. After high school, she moved to New York City, where she found a sense of community among other LGBTQ drag performers and sex workers. She changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson, with the “P” standing for “Pay it no mind.”

While she struggled with homelessness and mental illness, Johnson always made sure to help others in need. She co-founded a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth named STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) along with fellow trans activist and friend Sylvia Rivera, and spoke out about the AIDS epidemic. Johnson also participated and lead the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, a series of protests after a violent police raid of the gay club Stonewall Inn. Johnson died in 1992, but her work and legacy lives on today.

Watch video: 

https://ca.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/fp18.lgbtq.marsha.p.johnson/activism-marsha-p-johnson/

Vocabulary 

Respectability politics: beliefs resting on how conformity to mainstream standards, appearances and behavior will protect a person of a marginalized group

Intersectionality: the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups (from Merriam-Webster dictionary)

Credit: National Park Service

Discussion questions

  1. Identify and describe at least two key contributions Marsha P. Johnson made to the LGBTQ and Trans Movement in the United States.
  2. What was the societal attitude towards LGBTQ and trans people during Marsha’s life? How did Marsha combat those attitudes and discrimination?
  3. Why is the Stonewall uprising an important event to the history of fighting for LGBTQ rights?
  4. How did Johnson’s intersectional identity as a Black trans woman impact her activism? How did her identity challenge the respectability politics at the time? 
  5. Why is it so important to learn about and celebrate activists like Johnson today? 

Group activity

Many other female, LGBTQ activists worked with Johnson and led the Stonewall uprising as well. Break the class into 3 groups and have them research the following women for 10 minutes:

  • Sylvia Rivera
  • Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
  • Stormé DeLarverie

After 10 minutes, let each group share a brief biography of their person and their activism for LGBTQ rights. Some topics students can address are:

  • Year of birth and death
  • Where they lived and worked
  • Their role and actions in the Stonewall uprising
  • Organizations they started to help the LGBTQ community
  • Other forms of activism (AIDs, homelessness, etc.)

For a direct resource about these three women, use this link by JCFS Chicago. 

For more

PBS 2-Part Series: The LGBTQ Movement and Stonewall Riots

National Park Service: Stonewall National Monument with Marsha P. Johnson’s biography

The Marsha P. Johnson Institute


Evelyn Chi, a rising sophomore at Amherst College and intern with NewsHour Classroom, wrote this lesson plan with editing by Victoria Pasquantonio.

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