In most remembrances of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, it’s largely focused on the gay men and drag queens that were part of the fight back against police raiding the Stonewall Inn. But also a presence that night was Stormé DeLarverie, an out lesbian performer and drag king who was clubbed by police outside of the bar, and who retorted with a punch of her own.
“I hit him,” she told us in a 2010 interview. “He was bleeding.”
Stormé passed away in her sleep on Saturday. She was 93-years-old.
A mainstay in the NYC queer community, Stormé was the focus of a 1987 documentary, Stormé, The Lady of the Jewel Box which chronicled her cross-dressing musical career. From our 2010 profile:
“There were around 25 guys and me.” The men performed in women’s clothes, and she, the only female in the troupe, performed dressed as a man. In an era still marked by segregation, the Revue featured both black and white performers and attracted a mainstream mixed race crowd, playing regular shows at the Apollo Theater and traveling the country to perform in major cities. Even after the group disbanded, it continued to live on in popular culture…. DeLarverie mentioned a few times that she used to wear men’s clothes around New York City. “I was doing it, and then [other lesbians] started doing it!” she said.
Although she wasn’t as highly recognized as part of the Stonewall uprising, it was mostly because Stormé did not seek attention for her participation (“Because it was never anybody’s business.”), however she was very active in the Stonewall Veterans Association as an ambassador in the executive committee. Despite living in a nursing home for the last few years of her life, Stormé continued to be a part of the community. She worked the door at lesbian club Henrietta Hudson until she was 85 and hosted an annual party called The Gay Bar People’s Ball. Outside of her work in the LGBT realm, she also dedicated time to performing at benefits for battered women and children, telling us “Somebody has to care. People say, ‘Why do you still do that?’ I said, ‘It’s very simple. If people didn’t care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south.’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t be here.’”
In April, Stormé was recognized by the Brooklyn Community Pride Center and received a Proclamation from the Letitia James, the Public Advocate of the City of New York.
Often referred to as the “Rosa Parks” of the gay community, Stormé is an important person to celebrate pride as we participate around the world in June. Thank you Stormé for being part of the reason why we can be so proud today.