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Why Google Doodle Honored Trans Pioneer Marsha P. Johnson

The artist and Google spokespeople discuss the celebratory illustration, which also coincides with a gift to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

Google capped Pride Month with an illustration of Marsha P. Johnson.

The tech giant honored the LGBTQ+ pioneer Tuesday with a Google Doodle, the artwork decorating the main page of its search engine on Google.com. 

In addition to the Doodle, designed by Los Angeles artist Rob Gilliam, Google has given a $500,000 grant to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute to support Black transgender women during the health crisis. Earlier this month, the company also contributed over $2 million to the Trevor Project and local LGBTQ+ organizations.

Johnson was a key participant in the 1969 Stonewall uprising against police harassment. While she identified as a drag queen in her lifetime, Johnson is considered a mother of the trans movement and a pivotal figure in launching the modern battle for LGBTQ+ rights. She died in 1992 under suspicious circumstances, which were investigated in a recent Netflix documentary by David France, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

Michael Appel, a Google spokesperson and a member of its Pride 2020 Committee, told The Advocate that the company wanted to shine a spotlight on Johnson's legacy of intersectional activism through this illustration and contribution.

“This year, for Pride, we focused on the history of Pride, early movement leaders, and the importance of solidarity. As one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ+ movement, Marsha P. Johnson challenged the world to acknowledge the intersections of Black+ and queer identity," Appel said. "It’s important to remember her work as we look towards all of the work we still have to do for equity, justice, and equality under the law.”

Lydia Nichols, the art director of Google Doodle, stressed how vital it is to fight against the erasure of people of color in the LGBTQ+ movement.

"Marsha P. Johnson knew that our destinies are inextricably intertwined—that none of us have rights until all of us have rights. She embodied this ethos, fighting throughout her life for equality and visibility. But dominant history has often erased her and other Black and brown queer activists from the narrative, failing to credit their leadership in the LGBTQ+ rights movement," Nichols said.

"Reflecting on Pride this year, five decades since the Stonewall riots, we celebrate our progress while recognizing all the work that remains. Marsha's life reminds us liberation can only be achieved together — through the acknowledging and dismantling of all systems of oppression. It is with this spirit that we remember and celebrate Marsha today."

In the illustration, a smiling Johnson, wearing her trademark flower crown, leads a New York City parade of signs — among them, flags representing asexual, intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and pansexual identities — in addition to the racially inclusive Pride banner. These colors also streak through the sky. Gilliam, the guest artist for Google Doodle, noted how the portrayal was inspired by her resilience, which shone through in her photographs.

“I was primarily inspired by Marsha's vibrant personality and the iconic New York architecture that her and her colleagues proudly marched through," Gilliam said. "Marsha's story is one of unending perseverance in the face of systematic adversity, a champion of inclusivity for all identities and walks of life. The bright smile Marsha wears in every photo was one of her most powerful tools — a symbol of her undying strength and devotion to her community.”

Elle Hearns, the founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, noted that the pioneer's legacy can still be seen in the recent Black Lives Matter protests that have been sparked around the world in response to police brutality.

“Marsha was a pioneer in the early days of the gay liberation movement. She spoke up and motivated her community to fight back against injustice and cruelty," Hearns said. "Today, I'm reminded of her every day as we continue to protest against police brutality and violence that is specifically targeted towards Black+ trans women. Marsha's incredible legacy lives on through the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.” 

“I'm proud to expand the reach of our work with support from Google.org and see Marsha’s life and legacy celebrated in today’s Google Doodle,” Hearns added.

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