Over 3,500 people have backed a petition to replace a New Jersey city’s Christopher Columbus statue with one of Black trans activist Marsha P Johnson.
The Christopher Columbus statue has stood in Marsha P Johnson’s home town of Elizabeth, New Jersey since 1971, but petitioners say a tribute to her would be far more fitting in light of the explorer’s problematic history.
Johnson left the town in her late teens with nothing but a bag of clothes and a few dollars to her name. She moved to New York where she became one of the central figures of the LGBT+ rights movement, and many locals feel it’s time her achievements were recognised.
“I’ve always said that Marsha was more recognised in New York City and around the world than she is in her own hometown,” her nephew, Al Michaels, told CNN.
The petition was created by 19-year-old Celine Da Silva, who also grew up in Elizabeth.
“We should commemorate Marsha P Johnson for the incredible things she did in her lifetime and for the inspiration she is to members of the LGBT+ community worldwide, especially Black trans women,” she wrote on Change.org.
“It tells me that times are changing. People are becoming more accepting to people who identify as LGBT+,” she said. “It tells me that people are realising how whitewashed our history is and how some figures that we learn about, we don’t learn everything about them.”
The nearby New Jersey towns of Camden and West Orange both moved to take down memorials to Christopher Columbus earlier this month, with the mayor of Camden saying the statue had “long pained the residents of the community.”
Both communities are still working out what should be erected as a replacement. Da Silva says local minority heroes like Marsha P Johnson are the perfect choice, and plans to bring her request to the city council.
“Obviously we’re not asking the city council to consider putting up a statue. This is a demand,” said Da Silva’s boyfriend Daniel Cano, who helped form the petition.
“Ultimately, a statue is going to come up no matter what. And we’re going to honour Marsha in the way that she deserves to be honoured.”