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Honoring Queer Justice

At Aragon High School, a group of students dedicated to preserving the history of queer justice created a mural to honor that history. In the wake of the many anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being passed in the United States currently, these students wanted to remind people that queer people have always been an integral piece of American history.

The mural depicts four historical figures, all of whom were very influential in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. 

All of the written content on this page is courtesy of the students of Aragon High School's Agency & Social Justice class.


Public Universal Friend

(1752 - 1819)


Pauli Murray

(1910 - 1985)


Harvey Milk

(1930 - 1978)


Marsha P Johnson

(1945 - 1992)

Marsa P Jono
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Local Activism in the San Francisco Bay Area

Public Universal Friend
(1752 - 1819)

In 1776, a quaker woman named Jemima Wilkinson was bedridden with a severe fever. Her friends and family thought she was not going to live, however, their body magically got better overnight, and declared themselves as the “Public Universal Friend.” They proclaimed that their soul was reincarnated as genderless by god and was sent to warn all of humanity about an ever-nearing apocalypse. 

Their work as a religious prophet began to become popular during the American Revolution and they gathered a large following. They traveled within New England, preaching in male ministers' clothing. They attracted hundreds of disciples, and the Friend has been regarded by historians for generations as a powerful spiritual figure of the American Revolution. 

During the time, many lacked the resources to fully understand the Friend’s identity. Followers and friends referred to them with “he/him” pronouns, though they referred to themselves without pronouns in general, signing letters as “The Friend” or “Friend.”

Public Universal Friend’s life is significant as one of the earliest studied examples of a non-binary person in the United States. When asked what their gender was, the Friend responded with “I am that I am,” a testament to the fact that the LGBTQ+ community existed long before it was recognized or the language to describe it accurately existed.

Pauli Murray
(1910 - 1985)

Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray was born November 20th, 1910. They were an activist who focused their work on gender and racial equality and LGBTQ+ representation. 

Throughout their life, Murray experienced discrimination on the basis of their race and gender identity, particularly in education, where they were denied access repeatedly. Throughout their life, Pauli Murray fought hard for a right to an education, despite setbacks based on their race and gender. After completing an initial two years at Hunter College, Murray was denied admission to Columbia University based on their gender. In 1938, Murray began a case to enroll in the then all-white University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which gained national attention. However, Murray's request was denied, and they were prohibited from enrolling in the university, this time based on their race. Later in their life, Murray referred to this as “Jane Crow,” referencing the duality of gender and race-based oppression they experienced. At Howard University Law School, they had the intention to become a civil rights lawyer to fight Jim Crow laws. There, they were awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship after becoming valedictorian, granting them permission to apply to Harvard, as many male graduates at the time also did. Franklin Deleano Roosevelt even wrote Murray’s recommendation to Harvard. However, after the award was announced, Harvard rejected Murray on the basis of their gender. Instead, Murray attended the University of California and graduated with their law degree with a master's thesis on equal rights in employment. 

Despite these setbacks, Murray utilized their legal career to fight for the rights of minorities in the US. In their final law school paper at Howard University, Murray had argued against racial segregation, stating that seperate could never be equal. Murray’s ideas of “separate and unequal” were read by Spottswood Robinson and presented to Thurgood Marshall, forming the basis of the NAACP’s argument in Brown v Topeka Board of Education in front of the Supreme Court and ultimately overthrowing Jim Crow laws, as well as used by Ruth Bader Ginsburg to resist sex discrimination. As a student at Howard College, Murray also organized sit-ins with their fellow students. In 1940, while returning home, Pauli Murray and their friend, Adelene McBean, refused to move to the back of a bus, employing “Gandhi-like tactics” of peaceful protest . Murray and McBean were arrested and represented at trial by the NAACP, who argued that Virginia’s Constitution did not require Black people to board from the back of the bus 14 years before Rosa Parks. Pauli Murray also used their voice to support their community in a more permanent way, founding and working on behalf of numerous organizations dedicated to civil rights, like the National Organization for Women. 

Murray also faced several obstacles throughout their life because of their sexuality and gender identity. They lived at a time when queer people were forced to suppress their identities in society. Murray was repeatedly denied hormone treatment that they sought out, and because of the erasure and suppression they faced, historians are still unable to gain an accurate understanding of their identity. What is abundantly clear, however, is that Murray was part of the LGBTQ+ community, exploring their identity before any formal protections even existed (FACT CHECK THIS). In their personal writings, Murray used the term “she/he personality” to describe themselves, revealing their recognition of identities outside of the gender binary. Their journals show them repeatedly wondering if they were “one of nature's experiments; a girl who should have been a boy.” Murray also grappled with their sexuality, describing dysphoria when in a brief marriage with a man, feeling like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. They had two same-sex relationships, though they described themself as a man attracted to bisexual women and rejected the term “lesbian.”


Murray’s life is a symbol of continued advocacy on behalf of minority groups in the United States. Despite persisting struggles, they used their education to influence policy for decades into the future, as well as affected direct change in their community through protest and community organizing. 

    Harvey Milk
                 (1930 - 1978)930 - 1978)

Harvey Milk was born in May of 1930 to a middle-class family in Woodmere, New York. He graduated from the University of Albany with a degree in both math and history. He began his activism in college, questioning the absence of members of the LGBTQ+ community in his college newspaper. Thus, he began his long career in political activism. After graduating college, he joined the Navy as an officer for about 4 years based in San Diego but later resigned after being forcefully questioned about his sexuality. After his time in the Navy, he held many jobs, including a teaching position in Long Island, a driving instructor, a stock analyst in New York, and a production associate on Broadway. During his time in New York, he continued his political activism by advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and protesting the Vietnam War.


In 1972, he moved to San Francisco and opened a camera shop in the Castro neighborhood that fostered a safe space for members of the LGBT community. The neighborhood had not earned its reputation has a safe haven for queer people until Milk’s activism and presence in San Francisco. During his time in San Francisco, he founded the Castro Business Association in order to foster a strong community of LGBTQ+ run businesses and hoped to protect those businesses from homophobic prosecution.


Harvey Milk gained a large following and quickly became a beloved icon of the Castro. Inspired by his flourishing community in the Castro, and his newfound popularity, he ran for the position of San Francisco City Supervisor to help support the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. During his time in public office, he nurtured collaboration between these communities so that they could work for the common goal of achieving equity for all. Because Milk was a powerful advocate of many misrepresented communities in the Bay Area, he quickly became an icon who exposed the historic inequities in San Franciscan society. He faced heavy backlash from being San Francisco’s first openly gay man to be elected into public office. Despite this, Harvey Milk remained a public advocate for members of the LGBTQ+ community.


During his campaign for public office, he shifted his focus to representing residents of the Castro, winning him the seat on the board of supervisors in 1977. In office, he gained national attention for being the first gay man to be elected to a major political office. Some of his most imfamous achievements were his sponsorship of the Gay Rights Ordinance, establishing daycare centers for working mothers, and the conversion of military facilities in the city to low-cost housing. He actively spoke about the discrimination faced by women, queer people, and other marginalized communities. Harvey Milk led the strikedown against Proposition 6, which made it illegal to have openly gay or lesbian teachers or show support for the LGBTQ+ community in California. 


Harvey Milk’s status as an out public figure helped to encourage other members of the LGBTQ+ community to come out, including his nephew. He is known for saying “Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out,” encouraging other queer folks not to be ashamed of their identities, but instead to work as a community to fight homophobic practices and legislation. His life served as an inspiration that encouraged waves of other activists to follow in his footsteps, as well as uplifted an entire community. 



Sadly, after only about a year in office, Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White on November 27th, 1978 in San Francisco City Hall with his friend Mayor Moscone. White was a former board member who served with Harvey Milk. White largely escaped justice, arguing during trial that he couldn’t be held accountable for is actions because of his high consumption of junk food, and eventually serving only 5 years out of a 7 year and 8 month sentence for the murder. The community rallied behind Milk, holding a candlelight vigil on the streets of the Castro that has become known as one of the most beautiful reactions to violence a community has ever had.

Marsha P. Johnson
(1945 - 1992)

Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender woman and activist for LGBTQ+ rights during the 60s, until her death in 1992. Originally born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she moved to Greenwich Village, New York City as soon as she graduated from high school in 1966, taking $15 and a bag of clothes. Not long after, she changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson, the “P” standing for “Pay it no mind”-- her life motto and response to when people asked about her gender.


During this time in New York City, the rights of LGBTQ people were severely limited and, as such, she found it hard to find work. She found a job as a sex worker, which was incredibly dangerous due to the stigmatization of sex workers. Marsha often worked alone with strangers, leading her to be pulled a gun on many times and, once, even shot. The work was hard and violent. 


Marsha, despite her working, lived most of her life without a permanent home. She slept in hotel rooms, restaurants, movie theaters, and sometimes with her friends. Even with her work in drag and in waiting tables, she still made most of her money from sex work. 


On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. In response to the police trying to arrest people for violating discriminatory laws in place, protests and rioting broke out among the patrons. Marsha P. Johnson was one of these patrons on the front lines, “screaming and yelling and throwing rocks”, according to Robert Heide, one of the people involved in the Stonewall riot. 


Stonewall was a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights and liberation-- and awakening for a generation of gay and transgender people. However, despite Marsha and many other trans women starting this movement with Stonewall, she didn’t feel there was a space in the Gay Liberation Movement for transgender people. The conversation was mostly focused on white gay men and lesbians. As such, the problems of transgender people being more likely to be homeless and targeted by the police were unaddressed. 


Marsha and her friend Sylvia Riveria, however, wanted to address this. In 1970, Silvia Riveria and Marsha P. Johnson founded STAR (Street Transvestite Activist Revolutionaries). STAR provided a safe place for homeless transgender youth. Even when it disbanded later in the 1970s, the impact could be felt throughout the movement for the rights of LGBTQ people. 


Marsha P. Johnson was beloved by people in her community for being generous and kind, as well as authentically herself. Even after being arrested over a hundred times, she still fought for what she believed in and advocated for the rights of herself and her peers. She believed that no one should ever have to struggle to survive and that no one should ever have to sleep on the streets. 


Marsha P. Johnson died in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River on July 6th off of West Village Piers. Her death was ruled a suicide by police, despite claims from friends and others in her local community that she was not suicidal.

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