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New York dedicates state park to LGBTQ civil rights icon Marsha P. Johnson, marking a first

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(NEW YORK) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dedicated the East River State Park in Brooklyn to Marsha P. Johnson, making it country’s first state park to honor an LGBTQ person, according to the state.

Cuomo made the announcement on Monday, on what would have been the transgender civil rights icon’s 75th birthday.

“I’m proud to announce the dedication of East River State Park in Brooklyn to #MarshaPJohnson. Today, Marsha P. Johnson State Park becomes the first State Park to honor an LGBTQ person,” Cuomo tweeted. “NY is indebted to her for her brave advocacy and relentless fight for LGBTQ equality.”

The state plans to improve the park’s facilities and install public art celebrating Johnson’s life and her role in the advancement of LGBTQ rights, according to a statement, which called the move the largest investment in the park’s history.

Johnson, an early and outspoken advocate for transgernder women of color, is widely credited with helping instigate the Stonewall uprising in 1969.

New York City police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, on June 28, 1969, to enforce a discriminatory law that made it illegal to serve alcohol to gay people. Johnson and others fought back, helping spawn the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement.

Johnson founded the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR) — a group aimed at helping homeless transgender youth — before she died tragically at the age of 46 in 1992, when her body was found floating in the Hudson River. Her death was initially ruled a suicide, but police reopened the investigation in 2012 amid calls from her family, who claimed foul play.

Gov. Cuomo said the state wanted to honor Johnson’s work to make sure that her memory lives on forever.

“Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Marsha P. Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement, and is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves. Dedicating this state park for her, and installing public art telling her story, will ensure her memory and her work fighting for equality lives on.”

New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that the current social climate made this the right time to honor Johnson, who she called an “LGBTQ hero.”

“With the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, now more than ever we must continue the fight for LGBTQ equality and racial justice in our society,” Hochul said. “We have come a long way with the passage of GENDA [the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act] and legalizing gestational surrogacy, but we still have more work to do to combat division and hate and achieve true equality for all.”

The park’s dedication comes as protesters across the country call on institutions to confront long-standing systemic racism and discrimination.

Last year, New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill apologized for the violent Stonewall raid amid mounting pressure from local politicians and leaders.

“I’m certainly not going to be an expert of what happened at Stonewall. I do know what happened should not have happened,” O’Neill said at the department’s inaugural pride safety briefing last June. “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple.”

ABC News’ Tony Morrison contributed to this report.

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