By Tessa Petak, InStyle
June 2, 2021
Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender activist and drag queen from New York City, played a significant role in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Pushing back against hate and police brutality, she helped to kick-start the movement for LGBTQ+ rights, and her fight to freely be herself set a precedent of self-acceptance and tolerance. In 2021, her legacy lives on, through modern-day LGBTQ+ advocates who continue that fight for equality, and through Awe Inspired's latest campaign, which features model and actress Indya Moore in Johnson's iconic flower crown.
Awe Inspired — which was founded by LGBTQ+ community member Max Johnson and his mother Jill Johnson — teamed up with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute to create a one-of-a-kind necklace in honor of the legend, and tapped the Pose star to model it. Speaking to InStyle via Zoom, Moore tells us why this initiative meant so much to her, especially during Pride month.
"This initiative is not only admirable and warming to me but it's also necessary," she says. "Marsha P. Johnson's work specializes around humanizing trans people through various efforts, but also defending and protecting the rights of trans people, from healthcare and shelter to other basic human rights that other people have."
The dainty gold coin necklace, which was created as a part of the brand's Goddess collection, is embossed with the face of Johnson and her instantly recognizable floral headpiece. Moore tells us that this necklace marks a very powerful and historic moment for her, especially following the most violent year to date for the trans community, with a total of 44 trans people murdered in 2020.
"To have a Black trans woman on a coin on a piece of value instead of white [male] presidential colonizer, who probably had Black people as slaves, is beautiful," Moore says. "The symbolism around the engraving of a Black trans woman's face on such a valuable piece of gold is incredible."
She also stresses the importance of items like this in light of recent violence, hate, and even legislation against trans people. "It's really alarming and scary. Marsha P. Johnson's work is incredibly important right now, more than ever. This collaboration feels more than right. It feels essential."
This Awe Inspired campaign will donate 100% of the proceeds of the MPJ Goddess Coin Necklace to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, in support of the organization's mission to protect and defend the rights of Black trans people. Awe Inspired was founded with the mission to support those in need and celebrate heroic women who came before. To date, the jewelry brand has donated nearly $750,000 to organizations, including the NAACP and RAINN.
In the video that accompanies the photos, Moore can be heard questioning "What makes a goddess?" The Queen & Slim actress no doubt fits her own description, as someone who has created her own future and identity, and inspires others to be themselves. Still, she admits to initially having hesitations about taking on this campaign.
"I felt so unworthy of representing such an iconic figure at first," she says. "I said, 'I really feel bashful about taking on that role of embodying Johnson.' And then, I started to feel softer and more thoughtful toward myself."
As a trans and non-binary person in the entertainment industry, Moore also embodies a lot of Johnson's courageous qualities. And though she doesn't like to place a lot of value on being someone others look up to, she does recognize that the trans community needs more role models.
"Trans people are already deprived of eldership, of having an opportunity to look back at somebody and say, 'that's where I come from,' and be proud of it. We're so ostracized by our families, and we so often don't have an opportunity to have role models," she says. "Marsha P. Johnson was a Black trans woman who asserted herself to be that for the girls [and] the queer and trans community at large."
Pose itself has also created a whole new group of role models. Set in a 1980s New York City, the show follows a LGBTQ+ "family" made up of members rejected by their birth families, and has served as much-needed representation. With the show's third and final season currently airing, Moore is hoping the audience is left with one main takeaway: remembering that their life matters.
"From when you were a child and your mom or dad dismissed the questions that you asked, to the moments where you might have tried on a lipstick or heels, or wanted to play sports and do different things that were so assigned to gender — those questions matter," she says. "I want them to know that all of the moments that they felt alone and isolated and like they were on an island, that they could lean on themselves. That they're beautiful and intelligent enough for themselves to lean on what they know deep down in their gut."
She continues, "Pose actually, made me think about all that because of the legacy that it left — around family, love, and interpersonal support and being a rock for your people. I want people to walk away with those processes. I want people to walk away thinking about the kind of parent that they are to their children or their power as a trans queer person, and the fact that they can protect, love, support, and fight for themselves. Standing up for yourself and what you deserve can change the world."