Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were best friends— and heroes in the Stonewall Inn Riots. Following the 1969 riot, Johnson and Rivera went on to found Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an activist organization that advocated for (and sheltered) transgender people who had been marginalized by society. Today, Rivera is considered the Rosa Parks of the transgender movement.
While Stonewall is synonymous with the birth of the modern Gay Rights movement, the personal stories of Johnson and Rivera are far less publicized, especially among LGBT youth. Happy Birthday Marsha!, a documentary currently campaigning for funds on Kickstarter, aims to change that.
Reina Gosset and Sasha Wortzel are the pair behind the film. Their goal is to give credit where credit is due. As they explain on the project’s Kickstarter page, “It’s been 45 years since the Stonewall rebellion yet the leading role that street queens, trans women of color and gender non-conforming people had during the riots hasn’t received the recognition it deserves.”
Gosset’s passion for the project stems from her background as a black trans woman working as membership director of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. In that role, she has been doing archival work on Johnson and Rivera. It’s only fitting then that part of the film will include archival footage from actual events of the era. Wortzel is a filmmaker who has worked in collaboration with Gosset for four years.
The documentary will follow Johnson and Rivera on June 28, 1969, the day of the riots. The day was also Johnson’s birthday—as well as the day Rivera first introduced her lover to her family. Gosset and Wortzel describe the actions of the two best friends that day as “bold everyday decisions.” After an afternoon of difficult emotions and harassment (including tense encounters with the police), the Johnson and Rivera reconvened at the Stonewall to celebrate Johnson’s birthday. When the police arrived to raid the bar, Johnson and Rivera were two of the first to fight back.
Gosset and Wortzel say, “We truly believe how we tell the stories of our heroes matters,” and that is why they are turning to Kickstarter. “We are drawing upon our community to make this film because we have an opportunity to make a movie written, directed and produced by people living Sylvia & Marsha’s legacy through our work.”
In the campaign’s video, Gosset says, “Now, in the 45th anniversary of Stonewall, we believe it’s time. It’s time to give a huge spotlight and platform to the incredible legacy of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson.”
The Kickstarter campaign ends Friday, August 15.