Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie was the lesbian who reputedly sparked the Stonewall resistance in June 1969 of which she said, “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.”

There are many different versions of the event, but all of them agree Stormé was one of the lesbians fighting back against the police raid. In 2008 when asked if she knew the unidentified Stonewall lesbian who instigated the uprising, she replied, “Yes, it was me.” She described what happened. “As politely as I could, I said, ‘Just a minute, officer, I’m trying to help this man.’ He then yelled, ‘I said, move along, faggot.’ I think he thought I was a boy. When I refused, he raised his nightstick and clubbed me in the face.”

Stormé’s professional career as a jazz singer began around 1939. Her beautiful baritone voice attracted attention and in 1955 she was approached by the Jewel Box Revue to perform with them as a male impersonator. Talking about this in 1987 she said, “It was very easy. All I had to do was just be me, and let people use their imaginations. It never changed me. I was still a woman.”

It was very easy. All I had to do was just be me, and let people use their imaginations. It never changed me. I was still a woman.

Stormé DeLarverie – 1987

“And if I ever took my jacket off onstage, the dirt was out. But you know the strange thing is, I never moved any different than I had when I was wearing women’s clothes. They only saw what they wanted to see and they believed what they wanted to believe.”

But whilst female impersonation was not uncommon back then, there were very few male impersonators, and in the 1950s it was not considered respectable. She was advised not to do it. Her response, “Somebody told me that I couldn’t do it, and that it would completely ruin my reputation, and… didn’t I have enough problems being Black? I said, I didn’t have any problem with it. Everybody else did.” Her performances and her style were celebrated. The renowned photographer, Diane Arbus, captured that style and those photographs have been part of many exhibitions.

Stormé was one of those who formed the Stonewall Veterans’ Association on July 11, 1969. She was an active member holding the offices of Chief of Security, Ambassador and from 1998 to 2000, Vice President.

The love of Stormé’s life was a dancer named Diana who she met around 1943. They lived together until Diana died in 1969 soon after Stonewall. Stormé carried her photo with her for the rest of her life.

After Stonewall, and Diana’s death, Stormé gave up performing. She earned her living as a bouncer for several lesbian bars in New York City and put her energy into serving her community. She was a volunteer street patrol worker, calling herself the ‘guardian of lesbians in the Village’. She helped women and children who had survived domestic violence, organising and performing in benefits for them. When she was asked why she did this, she replied, “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 wouldn’t be here.’”

Stormé DeLarverie died in Brooklyn of a heart attack on 24th May 2014. She was 93 years old.

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