A love letter to Marsha P. Johnson

2000
Randy Wicker and Jesse Pallotta at the center
Randy Wicker (left) and Jesse Pallotta (right) inside The Center opening for Marsha P. Johnson’s statue. Photo by Lana Leonard

The first transgender statue in NYC park’s, is now at The Center

Old images and sketches for Marsha's sculpture
Jesse’s Zine of sculpting Marsha. Photo by Lana Leonard

Randolfe “Randy” Wicker is one of the original activists of the New York areas gay rights movement. He is 84 years old and the last living — and active — member of the gay rights organization, Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY).

He joined MSNY in 1958. He later founded the Homosexual League of New York, which created a fray between him and the Mattachine Society’s increasing conservatism.

Wicker is a creator, a videographer, and a journalist. He opened his home to adopted children, the queer youth, adults, and friends without homes. This is what led to the year that changed his life. It was a cold night in 1981 when his adopted son Willie Brashears brought Marsha P. Johnson over to visit said Wicker.

“He said, ‘It’s really cold outside. Can Marsha come in and sleep on the floor? Marsha likes to sleep on the floor,'” said Willie. “She came into sleep that night, and she was there for the next 10 or 12 years, and it was the greatest blessing in my life.” Wicker is sitting next to a statue of Marsha today. To him, Johnson was his “emotional anchor, [his] counselor and [his] friend.”

Johnson met each person in her life, stranger or not, with unconditionality. Activists, friends, and folks of the LGBTQ community are returning the love.

On May 25th The LGBTQ Community Center located in Lower Manhattan was holding an opening reception of Jesse Pallotta’s sculpture of Marsha P. Johnson’s bust, the first transgender statue in a New York City park. It is the statue Wicker is sitting next to. Marsha’s statue was initially mounted in Christopher Park on Aug. 24, 2021, and has since been named A Love Letter to Marsha — a reference to Wicker’s 1984 annual holiday letter.

Randy Wicker's petition from 30 years ago
Randy Wicker’s petition. Photo by Lana Leonard

The reception room was packed. Angel Glasby, collaborator, activist, and friend of Pallotta said “I’ve been a part of this project from its inception. I got close to Jesse through the project; your work materialized her beauty. [Marsha] was an initiator; she provoked so much change,” they said.

Glasby spoke on the ways leadership provokes once-in-a-lifetime moments. Then Tanya Walker — a friend of Johnson and the co-founder of New York Transgender Advocacy Group spoke. “If Marsha was under attack, she would defend herself. She didn’t always pay it no mind, so I want you to know that about Marsha. Marsha was one of the greatest people I’ve ever met in my life, and it’s so tragic that she’s not with us today.”

When visitors enter The Center Johnson’s bronze sculpted neck, chin, and eyes look toward the entryway. The sculpture will be at The Center until Aug. 24th. That would have been her 77 birthday.

“Marsha loved our youth. She really cared about them; she really cared about them when nobody else did,” said Walker. They recalled a moment in time when Johnson helped her friend avoid arrest by teaching her how to hide in the tires of trucks. At the time, Walker’s friend Melanie was a 14-year-old sex worker that needed protection from the police. Johnson was there, she knew the trade, and the girls stuck together.

Marsha's line written on paper with a collage around it
The second version of Marsha’s line. Photo by Lana Leonard

A Love Letter to Marsha is a reminder that transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary youth and sex workers still need protection. The reception was a moment of joy said Richard Morales, curator and manager of cultural programs at The Center.

“We’re so excited to welcome this statue to The Center just in time for Pride month,” said Morales in an email. We cannot forget.”

“This is an important opportunity to recognize the historical and current leadership of Black trans women and to highlight the need for the city to fulfill their promise of permanent monuments for Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera,” said Morales. A Love Letter to Marsha was (in part) sculpted, then mounted in response to this unfulfilled promise, one Wicker has tried to fulfill through petitioning.

When Pallotta met with Federal Park Superintendent Shirley McKinney, the sculpture was federally approved as an art installation and allowed to stay in Christopher Park throughout the inclement weather of autumn 2021. “I think something needed to be done anyway. We just hadn’t gotten to that point in our planning effort,” said McKinney in an earlier article. Federal approval of the bust as an art installation— allowed the sculpture to stay in the park. But it meant Pallotta had to tend to the sculpture’s maintenance.

However, Pallotta wasn’t alone.

Due to the activist and organizing community of Pallotta, Gasby, TS Candii, founder of Black Trans Nation (a Black trans sex worker advocacy nonprofit), Qween Jean, founder of Black Trans Liberation (an advocacy group focused on ending trans homelessness), Walker and Wicker, A Love Letter to Marsha has a new temporary home at The Center.

Presentation at The Center for Marsha's sculpture with people sitting and listening
Presentation at The Center for Marsha’s sculpture. Photo by Lana Leonard

“It seemed really in the spirit of Marsha by having many people who [are] on the ground protesting, doing protesting chants in the room,” said Pallotta over the phone. “It felt very… from the streets into the private in a really suitable way, if that makes sense.”

To find out more:
Black Trans Nation’s website: blacktransnation.org
New York Transgender Advocacy Group: nytag.org
QT Art Camp: qtartcamp.com
The Center: gaycenter.org
Black Trans Liberation: blacktransliberation.com

Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.