First ever state park dedicated to a LGBTQ person. On August 14, 2020, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the dedication of East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson. The dedication comes on Johnson’s seventy-fifth birthday and marks the first state park dedicated to LGBTQ person and a transgender woman of color. Marsha P. Johnson State Park is a seven-acre waterfront park located along the East River. It offers a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, a play area for children and open green space for relaxation and recreation.
Marsha P. Johnson was a prominent leader of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 and later established a shelter to support LGBTQ young people rejected by their families. Johnson was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist with ACT UP, and a co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (“STAR”). She was born August 24, 1945 in New Jersey and died in 1992 at the age of forty-six. There is currently an investigation on the cause of death.
The park dedication comes with a commitment to improve the park’s facilitates and includes the installation of public art celebrating Johnson’s life and role in the LGBTQ movement. Known for adorning herself with colorful flowers, the art reflects Marsha’s style and colors. The two main art locations include the North 8th Street main gate and the corner of North 7th and Kent Avenue. The park also placed interpretive signage outlining Marsha’s life and her role in promoting LGBTQ rights and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Improvements are expected to be completed by summer 2021. Improvements include a new park house/education center, additional Marsha P. Johnson art installations, and infrastructure upgrades to the deteriorating concrete pads that host Smorgasburg and other park events.
Governor Cuomo stated, “Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” adding, “Marsha P. Johnson was on of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement, and is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves. Dedicating this state park for her, and installing public art telling her story, will ensure her memory and her work fighting for equality lives on.”
Council Member Stephen Levin said, “Our parks in North Brooklyn are visited by thousands of people every year from across Brooklyn and the city. Open Spaces are the jewels of any neighborhood and are used for recreation and leisure by people from every walk of life. To have one of our local parks named after someone as influential and important to the history of our city and the fight for equality every is an honor. Marsha P. Johnson spent her life fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and to bring dignity and respect to so many New Yorkers. The new name and planned improvements to the park will show our commitment to providing world class public spaces for everyone.”
The park remains free and open to the public.
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By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)