The Life and Death of a Trans Hero | Marsha P. Johnson
Episode 5

The Life and Death of a Trans Hero | Marsha P. Johnson

Rasha and Yvette honor Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist who was mysteriously murdered and found floating in the Hudson River in July of 1992.

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In The Episode

Trevor Young 00:00

Hey everyone, Trevor here. Just want to hit y'all with a quick disclaimer before we start today's episode. This week, we'll be talking about a lot of issues relating to the gay and trans communities, both now and as far back as the 1960's. Of course, terminology today is a lot different from terminology back then, in fact, it's a constantly evolving thing. So it can be tricky getting it right sometimes. We're going to do our best today to be as respectful as possible and use proper terms and pronouns as we understand them. That said, we're human, and we might sometimes get it wrong, or not all the way correct. So if you notice something, please just reach out to us and let us know. We're constantly learning and we always want to do the right thing. We're more than happy to take feedback and correct something if we messed it up. So please hit us up on social media, we're at facingevilpod. 

You're listening to Facing Evil, a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the individuals participating in the show, and do not represent those of iHeartRadio or Tenderfoot. TV. This podcast contains subject matter which may not be suitable for everyone. Listener discretion is advised.

Rasha Pecoraro 01:23

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Facing Evil from Tenderfoot TV and iHeartRadio. We're your hosts. I'm Rasha Pecoraro.

Yvette Gentile 01:32

And I am Yvette Gentile. And we are here as always, with our amazing producer, Trevor Young.

Trevor Young 01:38


Rasha Pecoraro 01:39

A man of many words, Trevor, I love it.

Yvette Gentile 01:43

So guys, I had a crazy dream last night. Have you ever dreamt that you were in a tidal wave? And you feel this, like you feel the sensation of the wave like rolling, about to roll over your head?

Rasha Pecoraro 01:56

So many times,

Yvette Gentile 01:57

Right? Like it's, I mean, it's crazy. So I was wondering, does anybody know like when you dream about stuff like that, what it really means.

Rasha Pecoraro 02:07

I remember mom saying, because I'vedreamt about tsunamis or tidal waves, like my whole life. And I remember her when she was alive. She'd always say, that just means good change is coming. You know, of course, she was Polly Positive, so she'd always say it was good change.

Trevor Young 02:20

Any dreams I've ever had with, like physical sensations is usually more reflective of like, some sort of like paranoia I'm dealing with, you know, internally, you know, whether that's about like some sort of natural disaster or something else going on that manifests itself in a like physical movement, whether it's underwater or the earth shaking, or whatever it is.

Yvette Gentile 02:38

Oh, my god, Trevor, that's so deep because you heard what I just said, right? I was dreaming about a tsunami. And then there was an earthquake,

Rasha Pecoraro 02:47

Which causes a tsunami in real life. Anyway.

Yvette Gentile 02:53

Yeah. Alrighty. Well, please, Trevor, will you take us through today's case.

News Clip 02:59

The Police Department found that Johnson, whose body was found floating in the Hudson River, committed suicide, but those closest to her doubt, that's the story. Her death 25 years ago still remains a mystery. Marsha Johnson said I got my civil rights and then threw a shot glass into a mirror. And that started the riots. The idea that she was allowed to die without the proper response from authorities to investigate what happened to her.

Trevor Young 03:28

Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist and cultural icon who lived in New York from the 60s through the early 90s. She was a trailblazer for gay and trans rights and fought constantly to protect herself in those in her community. The story of Marsha's death is a sad one, and is largely reflective of the world and what she struggled to obtain rights. After the New York Gay Pride parade in 1992, Marsha disappeared. No one is really sure what happened to her, but her body was found floating in the Hudson River just a few days later. Marsha's case is unsolved to this day. It's unclear who killed her or how she died. But the most common theory is that transphobic gang members attacked her killed her and then dumped her body. Marsha's death sent shockwaves through the queer community. Not only was Marsha a well known figure, almost like a mother to some, but it was upsetting to many that the police did virtually nothing to investigate her murder or disappearance. And so what actually happened to Marsha? Why was law enforcement so disinterested in finding out? And how was her legacy, one of both strife and perseverance, reflective of the ongoing struggles for queer acceptance?

Rasha Pecoraro 04:47

So let me just say, as an openly gay woman, I cannot begin to tell you how much Marsha means to me personally. She was a trailblazer, an absolute icon and a badass in my humble opinion. And I truly believe that without Marsha, we wouldn't have a fraction of the amount of acceptance and love for queer people that we actually have today.

Trevor Young 05:15

I agree. I think Marsha is one of the crowning figures in the queer, and especially the trans community. She was really one of the first people to do it. So I'm really happy we're doing this today, frankly,

Rasha Pecoraro 05:27

I'm so proud. 

Yvette Gentile 05:28

Yeah. And I have to say, you know, thank you to my sister, Rasha for introducing me to miss Marsha P. Johnson, because I would not have known about her otherwise. And watching the Netflix special, right was so inspiring. And I believe that she's a part of all of our history, not just the transgender community. But, you know, I think about how challenging it had to have been for Marsha, especially in the 1960s. I mean, first of all, not just being queer, but being a person of color. Just think about how much she actually had to overcome and how much crap that she probably had to deal with, like on the daily,

Rasha Pecoraro 06:16

On the daily. Exactly. And she wasn't the only one. You know, one huge reason that we want to talk about Marsha today is that, sadly, her case, it's a common story for many trans people across the world. In fact, according to the Human Rights Campaign, of 157 reported cases of fatal violence against transgender women since the year 2013, 78% of them were transgender women of color.

Trevor Young 06:48

So let's also keep in mind that much of what's going on here is wrapped up in sex work. It was very common for transgender women, especially in New York at that time, to in fact, be sex workers. So in that same report from the Human Rights Campaign, I found that one in three victims of anti transgender fatal violence since 2013, reportedly engaged in some form of sex work. So this is also a huge part of what's going on here. It's a huge part of a bigger problem we're talking about and it's a big part of Marsha's story. 

Rasha Pecoraro 07:19

That's so true. I mean, sadly, I think Marsha had a lot, you know, working against her. But because this is what we do on facing evil, we need to see the light in the darkness. We're hoping that Marsha's story can raise awareness of the trend in violence against gay and trans people of color. And we also we want to elevate the story of Marsha herself and give her her flowers. She never got her flowers, I believe when she was actually on this earth. So I just want to shower her with all the flowers that we possibly can.

Trevor Young 07:52

I love that Marsha has been getting more attention in recent years. And that's great to see. But I think you're right. I think for decades past, a lot of people didn't know about Marsha. So I think yeah, finally.

Yvette Gentile 08:03

Time for a whole new generation to know about her. 

Rasha Pecoraro 08:06

Yes! And before we get into it and get into the nitty gritty, I want to do a quick disclaimer about terminology and pronouns. So during most of Marsha's life she presented as a woman, but in today's world, I think that Marsha would have referred to herself as a transgender woman or maybe even non binary or gender fluid. But at the time, you know, those, those terms weren't exactly out there. I think she referred to herself as a as a transvestite. Which of course, you know, we wouldn't use that word. So although Marsha was assigned male at birth, we will respectfully refer to Marsha, which she/her pronouns at all times throughout this podcast. And I truly believe that pronouns are a way of validating one's identity in the LGBTQ community and with allies. So my pronouns with that all being said, My pronouns are she, her and I identify as a lesbian or a gay woman. So I think it's important to share with our audience, Trevor, and Yvette, what are your pronouns and how do you identify?

Yvette Gentile 09:15

My pronouns are she/her and I identify as a straight female.

Trevor Young 09:20

And my pronouns are he/him, and I identify as a pansexual male.

Rasha Pecoraro 09:27

Thank you for that. I think it's important to share that with the audience, you know, like pronouns are, are definitely important.

Yvette Gentile 09:34

Alrighty, well, let's dive in. Trevor, can you tell us about Marsha's background?

Trevor Young 09:41

I sure can. So on August 24, of 1945 Marsha was born as Malcolm Michaels, Jr. in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Marsha was part of a big New Yorker family. One interesting thing is that her assigned middle name did not actually start with a P as a Marsha P. Johnson. Rasha, I know you love this story. So I thought I'd like to tell us about why?

Rasha Pecoraro 10:05

Well, I can't say Marsha's name without even saying the P you know, because you know I read that later on in life you know Marsha would always say that the P in Marsha P Johnson stands for pay it no mind. She wanted people to pay it no mind about her gender, pay it, no mind about her sexuality, all the things. And I just I love that so much. And of course Marsha is assigned surname, you know, was Michaels. So Johnson her last name was made up to and I heard that she picked that because she always frequented the Howard Johnson's on Sixth Street in Manhattan. So she just created her gorgeous, amazing self.

Trevor Young 10:45

Yeah, and so Marsha would also say that she enjoyed wearing dresses as early as age five growing up. But predictably, she kind of got bullied and harassed by other boys in her neighborhood. And so this kind of turned her off from wearing dresses, and she didn't really do it for the rest of her childhood. But bullying wasn't really even the worst of it. According to Marsha, she was also sexually assaulted by a 13 year old boy when she was a child. And this led her to refrain from or engage in any sexual activity until she was 17.

Rasha Pecoraro 11:20

God I can't even imagine like that's already like such a rough childhood. And I also know that Marsha struggled at home and Marsha said that her mom often dismissed homosexuality. But I read this weird quote, where her mom supposedly pressured Marsha into marrying a billionaire. I mean, isn't that a weird thing to say? I mean, it just seems like in the same breath, like she knew. Yeah, like I know, right? Like, did her mom know she was gay? Like, you wouldn't say that to a little boy. Right? Like, you should marry a billionaire? No. It's just so weird to me. But Marsha, you know, after high school, she ended up moving to New York City in 1963. And apparently, she only had $15 in her pocket and one change of clothes with her at the time.

Trevor Young 12:13

Yep. And Marsha eventually settled in Greenwich Village. She kind of got by by waiting tables, and also starting to engage in sex work, supposedly near that Howard Johnson's on sixth that you mentioned Rasha where she got her name. But about the sex work, Marsha would say that being a part of that community led to her coming out and being her authentic self quoting her here, "My life has been built around sex and gay liberation, being a drag queen and sex work." And so it was around this time that Marsha also started appearing in drag publicly, according to some photos we have and those who knew her, her style was not really like the elevated drag that you might see like on RuPaul's Drag Race or,

Rasha Pecoraro 12:56

Our favorite show.

Trevor Young 12:57

Yeah, and so obviously, Marsha couldn't really afford all the big fancy clothes you might see on that runway, or, you know, anything like that. So she's just kind of wore what she could find for cheap, you know, anything. She could grab off a rack for five bucks or less, or whatever it was.

Rasha Pecoraro 13:15

But I will say she never looked cheap. Like she I've seen amazing photos of her like she wasn't the best at doing her makeup or you know, didn't always have the right wig. But she was tall and slim and beautiful. And she had you know, long flowy dresses and robes and she always,like any good Queen, always had shiny heels on. And when I think of Marsha I think of her Hawaiian Haku lei her flower lay that she always wore on top of her head. It's like she needed Yes, the Crown, like she knew that she was a vibrant, beautiful queen.

Trevor Young 13:54

Yeah, I love that she made them by herself. I remember like reading about how she would just like, kind of like find these materials laying around and just piece them together. And you know, I think most photos you see if Marsha she's probably got that on. So it's it's kind of iconic at this point. And I will say I do also think she struck a really unique balance between femininity and masculinity. And that's really hard to do. 

Rasha Pecoraro 14:18


Trevor Young 14:19

It seems to, I think have been a really kind of like new and very revolutionary thing for her at the time. Like you've probably just didn't see like a lot of people who look like Marsha walking down the street in New York City in the 60s.

Rasha Pecoraro 14:31

You know, she was ahead of her time. Totally. I think it was super bold of her to do that. And you know, she's clearly had a lot of confidence,

Yvette Gentile 14:39

right? I mean, she really walked the walk. And she lived out loud and proud and like you said earlier you you know in the 60s, I'm sure you didn't see anybody walking around like that, you know, and especially so confident she was completely 100% fully living in her own skin.

Rasha Pecoraro 14:59

And she gave zero Fs..

Yvette Gentile 15:03

Yeah. Yeah. And I love that.

Trevor Young 15:05

Yeah, I love that she was confident. I don't necessarily think that she desired the spotlight. You know, I think she was just kind of doing her own thing and just wanted to be herself. The reality though is that whether she wanted it or not, she, shortly after this period was about to get a lot of attention. And that's because of something called Stonewall, which some of you might know about. We need to take a quick break. But when we come back, we will talk about Stonewall and Marsha's involvement in that.

Rasha Pecoraro 15:36

So now we're going to talk about something that is so important to me and every single member of the LGBTQ plus community and of course, our allies. And that is the Stonewall uprising, also known as the Stonewall riots. This was the start of what we now call Pride. So in case you haven't heard about Stonewall, Stonewall was a huge moment and movement for our community, and Marsha was a big part of it.

Trevor Young 16:06

Yeah, there are a ton of documentaries and other ways you can learn about Stonewall and I encourage everybody to do that. But here's kind of the overview. So the Stonewall Inn was a pretty popular gay bar in Greenwich Village at the time. In 1969, they actually started letting trans women and drag queens into the bar for the first time. And Marsha was one of the kind of first of those to frequent the Stonewall Inn. The Inn was a bit of a DIY space, so it didn't really have an official liquor license or anything like that. And so the NYPD kind of knew about some of the illegal activity going on here. And they kept a very like watchful eye on it. And they were really looking for any chance to like pounce on the Stonewall Inn. And so they did.

Rasha Pecoraro 16:51

Of course they did.

Trevor Young 16:52

On June 28 of 1969, they initiated a full raid of the Stonewall Inn. Keep in mind, it was also illegal for men to dress as women at the time. So police raids of gay bars were like a pretty common thing. You'd hear about that a lot. But usually they would arrest like all the drag queens and send them to jail. But this night, that didn't happen. Something completely different happened.

Yvette Gentile 17:17

Yes, this night was different, was very different because the Stonewall patrons, they decided that tonight enough was enough. And they they decided to fight back. They were tired of being bullied and harassed, you know. So it goes they all got rounded up. And they started pushing back against the cops and yelling and screaming and all kinds of things started happening. But there was one particular drag queen that she got shoved into the car, and then they slammed her head against the door. And you can imagine, you know, everybody is witnessing this and they slam her head down. And the crowd just goes ballistic. They start booing they start yelling things like gay power. And some people they say started throwing beer bottles, coins, I mean all kinds of things at the police cars. So this just reminds me of what John Lewis would always say, this was good trouble,

Rasha Pecoraro 18:19

Good trouble.

Yvette Gentile 18:20

They were fighting back. They were fighting against everything. Police brutality, brutality, like homophobia, things not being accepted, everything. So when I say Enough was enough, this is the moment it all went down.

Rasha Pecoraro 18:34

Yes. And one of the pivotal moments of that first night, there was a lesbian who got into a violent scuffle with four different police officers and they were beating her with their batons and they actually pinned her to the ground. And many witnesses actually reported that it was a black butch lesbian named Storme DeLaraverie. And so the story goes, Storme looked up at the crowd of bystanders and shouted, why won't you do something? And that is the moment that all of those witnesses said that the crowd absolutely exploded and it became a full blown mob.

Yvette Gentile 19:17

That's right. I mean, it got so crazy that they started destroying and turning over police cars and fires were erupting. Like everywhere. I mean, it was utter chaos. And obviously the commotion,

Rasha Pecoraro 19:31

They were pissed.

Yvette Gentile 19:32

Well, right, right. I mean, the commotion attracted more people and soon they say that over 500 people were a part of this riot. And it escalated into two days of full on rioting, followed by, I guess, smaller demonstrations taking place over the next week. So it was like a revolution.

Trevor Young 19:53

So Marsha is kind of credited as having a big role in this. However, her involvement is actually a little bit more mysterious than maybe people are willing to admit. So there, they're kind of all these conflicting accounts of where and when Marsha was at Stonewall, and really none of them are verified, so we don't actually know where Marsha was. But we're gonna throw a couple of things out there. And just keep in mind that again, none of it's verified. So one of the rumors was that when the first group push back against the police, when everything was really starting to kind of happen for the first time, Marsha was part of that group that was like yelling and screaming and all that stuff. Marsha later denied that though saying she wasn't even there at that time.

Yvette Gentile 20:34

I know one of my favorite stories was, well, the police were arresting folks, Marsha, this is the story, right? Marcia apparently threw a bottle or something in the mirror. And she shouted, I want my civil rights. I could hear her too. I can always like I can get them and I want my civil rights, or something like that. But I guess no one knows the exact quote. And some people say that she threw a shot glass. But on other accounts, they say she threw a brick. I mean, I don't know we don't we really don't know. None of it is verified. Right?

Rasha Pecoraro 21:10

So who's to say? So what's so funny about that? Like you both said, like, Marsha has denied it. It's almost like she was like, it was like a game of telephone like, ooh, did you see Marsha P. Johnson there? Oh, Marsha, was there Marsha was there? No, but, for sure, there are witnesses that saw her there on the second night of rioting. And many say that Marcia actually dropped a bag of bricks on a police car windshield completely shattering it. So that's probably where that brick story comes from.

Trevor Young 21:40

Yeah, that's a good one. Yeah. Yeah. So obviously Stonewall was crazy. And whether or not Marsha was involved, to that extent is, you know, TBD, or what have you. 

Rasha Pecoraro 21:52

I want to believe she was there. 

Trevor Young 21:54

Same. Yeah, I mean, it's a it's a really interesting thing that she was kind of given a credit, especially if she didn't, you know, actually do any or some of that stuff. And the fact that she kind of denied a lot of it, too, is interesting to me, like, you know, maybe she was kind of like, forced into this role of being the face of this movement. And maybe she didn't even really want to be, I don't really know. But I find that interesting to think about.

Rasha Pecoraro 22:16

Could be her humility too, she was very humble,

Yvette Gentile 22:18

Right? And you think about it, too. She took care of so many of them, right. And I think she was just she was the legend to them. So it's like, well, the legend had to be there the first night. You know,

Trevor Young 22:30

The reality though, is that Marsha's biggest role was more like in the aftermath of the things that happened after Stonewall. And so after the dust had sort of settled in the the fires had been put out in Greenwich Village, Marcia joined what was called the Gay Liberation Front, a sort of new activist group created to build on the momentum of the Stonewall uprising. So on June 28th of 1970, which was a whole year after Stonewall, Marshall walked in what was then the first ever Gay Pride rally in New York City, also known then as the Christopher Street Liberation Day, and this is how we got Pride as Rasha was saying.

Rasha Pecoraro 23:06

And then something happened a few years later, in 1973, that actually makes me incredibly, incredibly sad and mad at the same time. I truly believe that this was a huge blow to the transgender community and to transgender rights and awareness. So both Marsha and another legend in the trans community, Sylvia Rivera, were actually banned from participating in the gay rights rally in 1973. The organizers were made up of cisgender gay men and women, and they decided they didn't want any drag queens, or anyone from the trans community there, which is sickening to me, because we're all a community. You can't leave them out just because you think they don't represent all of us that just breaks my heart. I don't even know why they did that. I think in their heads, maybe they thought like it was a faster path to getting gay rights. I don't know. But they completely cut out drag queens, and the trans community and that just makes me so mad. And I've seen footage I've seen Silvia grab the mic and screaming at the top of her lungs, like,

Yvette Gentile 24:19

And they're booing her. 

Rasha Pecoraro 24:22


Yvette Gentile 24:22


Trevor Young 24:23

I mean, if you think about white, middle class America in the 1970s, you know, their perception of gay people was so distorted and so different from what you know, we think of today. And so I think probably the organizers of the rally and the march were thinking like hey, we need these people to see gay people as non threatening as non deviance or whatever it was, you know.

Rasha Pecoraro 24:43

We need to whitewash it. 

Trevor Young 24:44

Yeah, we need to essentially. Yeah, like we need to whitewash it and make it like palatable to, you know, straight middle class families and stuff like that. 

Yvette Gentile 24:51

A major contradiction. 

Trevor Young 24:53

Yeah, I mean, there's kind of like this promise of like, you'll get yours eventually. But we have to do this first step if we ever want to get there kind of thing, but yeah, it sucks because it was still so deeply rooted in A, racism, B, transphobia, and C, a phobia against sex workers, right? Like, I think a big part of it was that a lot of them were sex workers. And there was like a lot of stigma attached to that, of course. So all those are bad things to shun people for.

Yvette Gentile 25:18

Right, right. 

Trevor Young 25:19

Anyhow, not much is really known about Marshalls life after that point. There were a few notable things that happened. In 1975, for example, she was actually photographed by Andy Warhol, which was a cool thing. One Polaroid of her was included in his project portfolio entitled, ladies and gentlemen,

Rasha Pecoraro 25:38

I think that got her a lot of fame. I mean, you know what I mean? Like, I think when I tried to explain to someone who Marsha P Johnson was, especially if they're in the queer community, I'm like, you know, the picture from Andy Warhol. And they're like, oh the Polaroid and they're like, oh, yeah, yeah, I've seen her.

Trevor Young 25:51

I read. It was weird, though. Because the kind of image and the fame she got from that was very different from the reality of what she was living, which was like, she was very poor, very much, like, on the street at the time,

Rasha Pecoraro 26:03

Still surviving by sex work.

Yvette Gentile 26:04

Right. And she only got paid, you know, they only got paid $50 for that, too, you know?

Rasha Pecoraro 26:09

Oh, right. Each model, right? 

Yvette Gentile 26:11

Yeah. Yeah.

Trevor Young 26:12

Yeah. So things were super going well, for Marsha, despite, you know, a few cool things like that, especially when the 1980s rolled around Marsha's life, like so many other gay people. And so many other trans people at the time, became really consumed by the HIV and AIDS crisis. And she was a big part of all the movements, the marches that were supposed to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV. And she was also a part of the demonstrations to put pressure on government to do something do anything to help with this, which of course, we know, they really didn't, he didn't know. And so then on June 26, of 1992, actually, she disclosed to an interviewer that she herself was HIV positive after receiving a diagnosis just two years earlier. Sadly, Marsha would only live less than two weeks after that revelation. And for the moment, we need to take another break, but when we come back, we will talk about how Marsha died, or rather, how she was murdered.

Rasha Pecoraro 27:17

Now we're going to talk about how Marsha died. And sadly, there's not a ton of information here, but we're going to do the best we can and I highly, highly recommend going to Netflix and watching the documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson. Because transgender activist Victoria Cruz did so much on researching Marsha's, murder, I'm just gonna call it a murder. So on the morning of July 6 1992, Marsh's body was actually found floating in the Hudson River. And this was just two days after the year's gay pride parade, which was the last time that any of Marsha's friends had actually seen her. So the autopsy report could not prove a verifiable cause of death, something I know my true crime mind, is just I'm trying to be a sponge. But I know from Trevor that a lot of times when bodies are found in water, there's not a whole lot that you can find out about what happened to them. But one big thing to note, when they pulled up Marsha's body, she had a big gaping wound in the back of her head.

Yvette Gentile 28:28

It's just it's so sad to think about her, you know? Yeah, in the Hudson River. A lot of her friends said that, you know, Marsha was in a very fragile state. And we have to think about right, all of the things Marsha has been through. Like, she probably was in a fragile state, majority of her life, you know, even though she was walking so tall and proud still right.

Rasha Pecoraro 28:54

She was a marginalized, human. Yes, yes.

Yvette Gentile 28:58

Marsha's cause of death was initially determined to be a suicide. 

Rasha Pecoraro 29:03

Nope, nope, nope. 

Yvette Gentile 29:05

We know that. We all know that. That is not true. And especially Marsha's friends and family. They never in a million years believed that she would do that ever. 

Trevor Young 29:18

Yeah, it's a bit of a different conversation. I do think when we're talking about trans people and depression, and suicidal ideations, I do think there's a conversation there. I think it's probably a different episode, but it's always possible and it's worth considering. That said, there is a lot of evidence we can talk about here that suggests otherwise. So one of those is that her friend, Randy Wicker came forward to police, saying people had actually seen Marsha get into a fight with a local gang just two days before she was found dead. Which is, I mean, not a coincidence. Yeah. So one of those witnesses said Marcia was being constantly harassed by one specific member of this gang, and that this guy would shout all these homophobic slurs at her in public say all these horrible things and call her names and harass her just non stop. So I mean that right there is a huge red flag. 

Yvette Gentile 30:10


Rasha Pecoraro 30:10

Yeah. And that that witness account that you're talking about was never verified, only because it was never properly investigated by the police. Police never followed up on any of those leads that they got or reported any findings. And that particular witness said he tried to tell police what he knew, but he was totally brushed off. So sadly, the mystery of Marsha's death remain just that a mystery.

Trevor Young 30:37

Yeah, I mean, maybe there's room here to talk about why police would be so dismissive of a case like Marsha's, I think maybe the answer is probably very obvious, which is that, you know, trans people at the time were considered

Rasha Pecoraro 30:52

Second class citizens.

Yvette Gentile 30:53

Less than humane.

Trevor Young 30:55

Certainly far from a priority for the NYPD, I'm sure. And that's just really sad. And it speaks to, I think, a lot of homophobia, transphobia, probably racism that was prevalent at the time, and I'm sure it's still a huge problem. So unfortunately, that's where her case kind of stood for many years, really, you know, again, police not doing anything about it. And then in 2002, 10 years later, there was a bit of public pressure on the police to revisit the investigation and do something. All they really did though, was reclassify the suicide to quote, "undetermined."

Rasha Pecoraro 31:32

Better than suicide, I guess, but still.

Trevor Young 31:34

Yep. So another decade goes by. And in 2012, trans activists, Mariah Lopez does a lot of work to kind of raise awareness of Marsha and the fact that her case was never really solved. And she kind of rallies a lot of people in New York City's LGBTQ plus community. And they led police to reopen the investigation into Marsha's death, which is pretty big. Sadly, the cause of death remained unchanged, though. So they reopen the case and really, again, didn't do anything. 

Rasha Pecoraro 32:09

So like right now, it still says undetermined. Right. So that's where it stands today.

Trevor Young 32:14

Yeah, I mean, who knows if it'll ever change at this point? You know, I think anybody who knows Marsha probably knows what happened. But you know, as far as something official on paper, we're probably never gonna get it.

Yvette Gentile 32:26

Never say never Trevor.

Rasha Pecoraro 32:27

Yeah. You got Polly positive sisters right here. Never.

Trevor Young 32:32

I guess I'm always skeptical that like, you know, racist transphobic police are gonna go out of their way to solve like a 20 to 30 year old cold case. I doubt it.

Yvette Gentile 32:43

You know, I know I like you never say never in, in hopes, right. That's why we do this show. That's why we're doing this podcast, you know, to help change people's thinking. You know, my take on Marsha was that she was, I mean, at a very high risk for violence. Again, I go back to her being queer, her being black, her being a sex worker, being on the street, dealing with John's, dealing with homophobic assholes, dealing with police brutality. I mean, dealing with it all. I mean, it was just a bad situation.

Rasha Pecoraro 33:27

And she was still unapologetically her.

Yvette Gentile 33:30


Rasha Pecoraro 33:31

You know, and I think we also have to keep in mind that Marsha was well known in the community, and I think she might have been a bigger target because of that, you know, she was really well known for her activism work for her drag performing. She was a horrible singer, but she was an amazing performer. And I trust me if you Google it, and you listen to Marsha sing, it's like nails on a chalkboard, but you can't take your eyes off of her. But, you know, like, the sad thing is, is like she, she inspired so many queer kids like me, you know, and so many humans that aren't even in the queer community. And it's sad that I think we may never know what actually happened to her. And Marsha faced adversity, like we've been saying her entire life for being trans for being queer for being a sex worker, all the things and that may have been the very reason that she was killed. But this has to change for the rest of the community. And I think how we can change this is by number one, dismantling homophobia, and number two, dismantle transphobia, even in our beautiful gay community. So I think we need to take Marsha's example and work to dismantle all the phobias get rid of them bit by bit, and we need to create more safe spaces for trans people everywhere. I get really excited when we get to talk about things that people don't get to hear about a lot. And I think these are some fantastic organizations that you may not have heard of that you can donate to to help the transgender community. And we're just naming a few here, but please look them up. Trans Housing Coalition, Housing Works, Black AIDS Institute, and it's named after her the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. These are organizations that are doing amazing work, and I think it's a way that we can get back. All right, it's time for our last segment of the day, our imua. Today we want to dedicate our imua to the beautiful trans community, especially to the trans community of color. Everything you do is a brave and bold statement of perseverance and self actualization. And you deserve health, safety, and most importantly, love and acceptance.

Yvette Gentile 36:05

That's right. And we really want to honor those that came before, especially and obviously Marcia pay it no mind Johnson, and also Sylvia Rivera, the warrior of trans equality. I mean, there are so many women who spent their lives facing all types of evil. But the one thing that they had in common, they never let that defeat them. They kept continuing to fight for equal rights in this country, every moment of every day. Onward and upward, imua.

Rasha Pecoraro 36:44


Yvette Gentile 36:50

Well, that's our show for today. We'd love to hear what you thought about today's discussion and if there is a case you'd like us to cover, find us on social media or email us at

Rasha Pecoraro 37:03

Until next time,

Yvette Gentile 37:04


Trevor Young 37:33

Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio with producers Trevor Young, and Jesse Funk. Donald Albright in Payne Lindsey, are executive producers on behalf of Tenderfoot TV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is Claudia Dafrico. Original Music by Makeup and Vanity Set. 

Find us on social media, or email us at facing evil For more podcasts from iHeartRadio or Tenderfoot TV, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.


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