The Craftivism of Clare Dimyon: Celebrating Stormé

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Here at AfterEllen, there’s nothing we love more than the DIY spirit of lesbian women. And so when we heard about the craftivism of Clare Dimyon, we had to learn more.

Clare Dimyon has campaigned for LGBT rights since she first came out as a lesbian in 1984. In 2010 she was awarded an MBE “for services to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people of Central and Eastern Europe.” Clare is also responsible for the beautiful purple banner proclaiming that “everyone knows a Black lesbian, Stormé, started Stonewall.” She first took it to Brighton Pride, which happened a month after Get the L Out protested in London.

The banner has since travelled to marches and protests across the United Kingdom. Clare says it’s been to Brighton Pride, Manchester Pride, the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, and Million Women Rise. She even loaned it to the lesbian feminists picketing Stonewall on Lesbian Visibility Day.

This banner celebrating Stormé DeLarverie has been seen by thousands of people at marches and protests, and reached thousands more over social media. It has educated, intrigued, and – most importantly – kept Stormé’s memory alive. And yet, like many of us, Clare only learned about Stormé recently.

“We have all heard the variants on ‘Trans people started Pride.’ I had assumed it was true. And then in the aftermath of this protest [Pride 2018], a weird thing happened. US dykes started circulating the extraordinary idea that in fact it was a lesbian who started Stonewall.”

Although Stormé was the first to resist police brutality at the Stonewall Inn, the woman who shouted for others to do the same, she has never found the same love in LGBT history as Marsha P Johnson or Sylvia Rivera. As a lesbian feminist, Clare wanted to right this wrong and bring Stormé into public consciousness: “I am a Quaker – and one of our core mission statements is ‘searching after the truth’. Quaker philosophy says that ‘we are witnesses of truth’ and, well, I have to apply that to my LGBT life.”

Although Stormé was the first to resist police brutality at the Stonewall Inn, the woman who shouted for others to do the same, she has never found the same love in LGBT history as Marsha P Johnson or Sylvia Rivera. As a lesbian feminist, Clare wanted to right this wrong and bring Stormé into public consciousness.

Clare is passionate about Black lesbian visibility. “Women are erased by men and Black people are erased by white people.” And this has to change. “I will be damned to hell and back if on my watch the contribution of Stormé DeLarverie is lost. If there will be a statue to Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, then we must also have one for Stormé DeLarverie.”

All the focus on who threw the first brick at Stonewall is, to Clare’s thinking, “a very male way of looking at things.” It also misses the point of the Stonewall Uprising, which began as resistance to “police brutality against a lesbian woman.” Stormé DeLarverie “inspired people to throw off the assumption that they could be pushed around and harassed by the police when the police felt like it.” She is a powerful figure of resistance.

Encouraged by the success of her banner, Clare began printing Stormé t-shirts too. She has received orders from across the world – most notably from the tennis star and LGBT icon that is Martina Navratilova. Martina sent Clare pictures of her wearing the t-shirt, along with a message of thanks.

When asked what it’s like to be recognized by her heroine, Clare responds with a question of her own: “How do I even begin to tell you what it means?”

Clare and Martina grew up in the same part of the world, and shared many of the same cultural experiences. Even before Clare new that she or Martina was a lesbian, she admired Martina greatly.

“I remember Martina’s defection [to the USA] like it was yesterday. I remember thinking ‘oh my god, she may never see her family again, she probably couldn’t even say ‘goodbye’ for fear of her plans being discovered and then them preventing her from traveling.’ I was also aware, as Martina must have been, that the Soviet authorities might even make the lives of her family very difficult as a way of punishing her and of dissuading others. I was just sickened with the appalling decision she had had to take, and was very impressed by her courage.”

Clare cites Martina as a role model for coming out as lesbian in the 1980s, and credits Martina as the inspiration behind her decades of activism.

“Martina made my coming out, and the coming out of millions of lesbians, easier. Martina probably took that whole agenda forward by 20 or 30 years with her astonishing courage in going public at a time when it could easily have destroyed her tennis career. I am sure she would say that it was inevitable and given the stuff that was being said about her at the time…But it meant that coming out as a lesbian in 1984, I had someone positive.”

Martina Navratilova inspired Clare Dimyon. And Clare Dimyon inspires every single person who sees her banner and t-shirts honoring Stormé DeLarverie.