I announced earlier today that I’m going to be talking about various LGBT+ icons and activists. I have a list of 30 activists and I’ll be selecting a random number and writing about that person on the list. For our first selection, Siri said number 10 and so today, let’s talk about Stormé DeLarverie: an LGBT activist, drag king, and protector. Stormé played a key part in the Stonewall uprising.
First, let’s go back in time:
She is unaware of the day she was born so Stormé celebrated her birthday on December 24th, born in the year 1920. Her early life was difficult, being biracial at a time when segregation was still going on, and she had to deal with a lot of bullying and harassment.
It was around 18 that Stormé realized she was gay. She was with a woman named Diana for 25 years up until Diana’s death in the ’70s. Stormé continued to carry a picture of Diana with her everywhere. If I don’t find a love like that, I don’t want it.
Between the late ’30s and mid-’50s, Stormé worked jumping horses with the Ringling Brothers Circus until a fall forced her to quit. She then moved to Chicago where she was a bodyguard for mobsters.
In 1955, Stormé joined the Jewel Box Revue, the first racially integrated drag show in North America. She was the only woman in the show and she’d dress as a man both on and off the stage.
Stormé had such an air of androgynous that she could pass as a man or woman and no one was the wiser. Her drag caught the attention of many photographers including Diane Arbus, and many took these beautiful photographs!
Stormé was a fashion icon. Her androgynous style helped genderless fashion become acceptable. So I have to thank her a lot for that one.
Stormé was there the night of the Stonewall Uprising (she didn’t like to use the word riot). Stormé was believed to be the woman police were arresting who encouraged the people in the crowd to stand up and fight. As Stormé was being dragged out of Stonewall in handcuffs, she fought back against the police, running and swinging at them to let her go. A cop hit her in the head with a baton after she said that her handcuffs were too tight, she then turned to the crowd – head still bleeding- and said “Why don’t you guys do something?” The cop picked her up and threw her into the back of a police van. But outside that van, the crowd began to fight against the police and thus began the Stonewall Uprising.
Stormé’s part in the Gay Liberation Movement didn’t stop there. After what happened at Stonewall, multiple people said it was she who sparked the events that night, Stormé was called “the Rosa Parks of the Gay Rights Movement”. She worked as a bouncer at several lesbian bars after that. She was an involved member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, working as Chief of Security and Vice President at some points. She also worked to help abused women and children.
Stormé was a guardian angel of the neighborhood. She walled around – strapped (legally) – and protected the LGBT neighborhood from any intolerance. In her obituary it read:
“Tall, androgynous and armed – she held a state gun permit – Ms. DeLarverie roamed lower Seventh and Eighth Avenues and points between into her 80s, patrolling the sidewalks and checking in at lesbian bars. She was on the lookout for what she called “ugliness”: any form of intolerance, bullying or abuse of her “baby girls.” … “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. … She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.” (x)
Stormé passed away in her sleep from a heart attack on May 24th, 2014 after battling dementia. She always had memories of her childhood and Stonewall. She was beloved by many, her instigation at Stonewall changed LGBT+ people’s lives forever. Without her asking the crowd to do something, who knows if the riot would have happened and how different our lives would be today.
Thank you Stormé!
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Featured Image: Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times