Activists install a sculpture of Marsha P. Johnson in Christopher Park

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Gay and transgender activists traveled to Christopher Park on August 24 in Manhattan to erect a bust of late LGBTQ icon Marsha P. Johnson.

The sculpture, which was installed on the activist’s 76th birthday, was not approved by government officials. In 2019, First Lady Chirlane McCray and the city turned to the She Built NYC program – aimed at erecting statues of women in history – to announce their intention to honor Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with a monument to Ruth. Wittenberg Triangle at 421 Sixth Avenue at Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue. However, this initiative and other plans for the monuments were put on hold during the COVID era, according to the city.

The activists behind the new sculpture include Eli Erlick, a transgender advocate and director of Trans Students Educational Resources, and sculptor Jesse Pallotta, a sex worker who said he used $ 6,000 of his own funding to create the sculpture. Activists accused the city of dragging its feet to erect sculptures honoring LGBTQ women across the city.

“We decided to build the sculpture because we don’t believe the city will keep its promise to erect the statues of the women it claims to do,” Erlick said in a written statement to Gay City News. “If they do, we’re sure it won’t be in a timely manner. They haven’t built a single sculpture from their 2018 She Built NYC $ 10 million campaign. They also did not even choose artists for most of their proposals for statues.

She added, “It goes much further than the COVID delays towards the fundamental disorganization surrounding and apathy towards the memory of historic women. As trans people, we knew we had to take matters into our own hands if we were to remember a figure as deeply impactful as Marsha. ”

It is not clear whether the sculpture – which sits in the middle of the park – will remain in place for the foreseeable future. On August 27, the National Parks Service could not be reached immediately for comment. Activists said they contacted the city to discuss issuing a temporary permit.

In a statement, Mitch Schwartz, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said the city was aware of the new sculpture but had nothing to do with it.

“It is not a statue of the city, although the city has committed to building them,” Schwartz said in a written statement. “The statues commissioned by the city are currently on hold; COVID-19 has delayed monuments and public art projects in all areas, as you can probably imagine. We are still determined to see them through for Johnson and Rivera. But this one seems to have been set up by activists, and I don’t really have more details on it.

Pallotta said he hopes black and brown communities can see each other through this work of art.

“The initial spark to create a Marsha monument was due to the cancellation of the sculpture by the city and the historic setback of George Segal’s ‘Gay Liberation Monument’,” Pallotta said. “For many LGBT + people, they are not represented in the normative cis gay couples that the statue of Segal represents. Marsha is a representation of all the outcasts: trans people, black and brown queers, sex workers, drag queens, homeless people, those affected by the incarceration system and many more who have historically been excluded from the modern LGBT + movement. . “

Activists add Marsha P. Johnson’s famous flower crown to the sculpture. Eli Erlick

TS Candii, a black transgender woman and founder of Black Trans Nation, said she believes more black transgender activists should have been consulted or involved in the early days of the project.

The activists who installed the sculpture emphasized that they were doing so as individuals and not as members of organizations.

“While we hope the statue will inspire viewers to support groups like the Marsha P Johnson Institute, we did not want to put any organization or person at risk by participating in a risky activity, ”Erlick said in a statement.

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