Story at a glance

  • Along with statues of Confederate figures and slave owners, Americans are questioning monuments to colonizers responsible for the deaths of indigenous people.
  • Christopher Columbus, who is honored with statues, monuments and even a holiday, has been the target of many protesters.
  • One petition suggests replacing a statue of Christopher Columbus in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with one of Marsha P. Johnson.

Last year, New York announced a statue honoring Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist, in Greenwich Village, down the street from the Stonewall Inn. The city was her home for many years, and where she died, but it wasn’t where she was born. 

Now, a new petition wants to honor Johnson with a statue in her hometown of Elizabeth, N.J., to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus. It's one of many across the United States of the colonizer, who enslaved Indigenous people and is credited for opening the way for further European colonization of the Americas. 


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“Many believe celebrating Columbus is glorifying European colonialism. Columbus is not a figure to be celebrated, as he enslaved and killed the Taíno. Him and his men also sexually abused Taíno women and girls, some as young as 9 years old. He was even arrested in his own time for crimes he committed against Spanish colonists, which included flogging and executions without trial,” Celine Da Silva said in the Change.org petition, which had 27,000 signatures as of Monday out of a goal of 35,000. 

In addition to statues of Confederate figures and slaveholders, statues of Spanish conquistadors have come down for similar reasons and many have suggested Black or Indigenous people of color be honored instead. Johnson was part of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with fellow transgender activist Sylvia Rivera and was known for her advocacy for the LGBTQ community. 

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"We should commemorate Marsha P. Johnson for the incredible things she did in her lifetime and for the inspiration she is to members of the LGBT+ community worldwide, especially black trans women," said Da Silva. 

The petition was launched during Pride Month, which celebrates the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which Johnson participated in. In fact, just as Columbus is sometimes falsely credited with “discovering” America, Johnson is often falsely credited with throwing the first brick during the Stonewall riots, which started after police raided the gay bar in 1969. But the similarities stop there, as the transgender activist remains revered by many in the LGBTQ movement. 

"Marsha P Johnson is the mother of modern day intersectional feminism, and Columbus was a mass murderer," Chloe Argueta said in a comment on the petition website. 

Another comment, by Cristal Avilez said, "I wouldn’t be able to exist as an openly queer woman if it wasn’t for her."


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Published on Jun 30, 2020