Tired of waiting for City Hall, activists install monument of trans icon in Greenwich Village park

At the crack of dawn Tuesday, Aug. 24, a few people showed up at Christopher Park, home of the Stonewall National Monument, and put up a sculpture.

"I almost had a panic attack before," artist and activist Jesse Pallotta said, "because I was so nervous that I was going to get in trouble!"

Nervous because the bust Pallotta created of LGBTQ rights icon and trans activist Marsha P. Johnson was not authorized by anyone, and the group had no permit.

They just got tired of waiting.

"The city has been boasting about putting up more statues of women for years, even decades now, and they simply haven't done it," activist Eli Erlick said. 

A New York Times article was written in 2019 about the city's announcement that it would add a transgender monument in New York. It still hasn't happened. In fact, an artist hasn't even been selected.

Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, said COVID has "delayed monuments and public art projects across the board" but added that the city is "still committed to seeing it through."

Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, self-identified drag queen, and a pivotal figure in the 1969 Stonewall uprising — the birth of the modern gay rights movement.

"Eli was like, 'I want to put a sculpture of Marsha in the park,'" Pallotta said. "And I was like, 'I know how to sculpt!' Then it kind of unraveled from there."

Pallotta — whose preferred pronouns are they/them — said they sculpted the initial design out of clay, then created a mold from which to make a plaster version. That was then covered in a coat of bronze paint.

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"It's just so important that we have trans people in our parks and we have representation for, particularly, Black trans women," Erlick said.

Pallotta said they chose Johnson because, quite simply, she "cared about people around her." "And for me, that's really inspiring and that is like the type of historical figures I want to look to," they said. 

FOX 5 NY reached out to the National Park Service, which oversees that spot of land, including the Stonewall National Monument, in Greenwich Village to find out if it will allow it to remain in place. NPS hasn't given us an answer.

But Pallotta said they and parks officials have been in touch with each other, and they say officials have indicated that, at least for now, they are willing to let it stand.