Gay, bouncer, butch, singer, cross-dresser, leader; these are some of the various names and titles Stormé DeLarverie had been called during his lifetime. Stormé was known for not backing down from a fight. As an early leader in the LGBT rights movement, Stormé DeLarverie might just have thrown the first punch in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. DeLarverie was known as the Guardian of Lesbians in the [Greenwich] Village.
Stormé DeLarverie was born in New Orleans, LA in 1920 to a black mother and a white father. His mother worked as a servant for his father’s family. Growing up biracial, Stormé faced quite a bit of bullying and harassment. He eventually realized he was gay around the age of 18. He preferred he/him/his pronouns.
In 1955, DeLarverie joined the Jewel Box Revue, the first racially integrated drag revue in the country. The revue regularly played the Apollo Theater in Harlem and traveled to various other theaters in the black box circuit.
In 1969, Stormé was at the scene of what history knows as the Stonewall Riots. He feels that ‘riot’ is a misleading term, stating “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience– it wasn’t no damn riot.” Although nobody knows and it cannot be confirmed, the story goes that he initiated the first punch at the Stonewall Rebellion, and many believe it to be true. He has even gone on record in many interviews and taken credit for such.
At the Stonewall Inn, a fight had broken out when a woman was escorted out the door to a police car. It is believed the woman was Stormé – he had escaped from the police repeatedly and was dragged through the crowd multiple times due to the escapes. He was eventually hit on the head with a baton by the police and was bleeding from the head wound as he fought back. Bystanders recalled that woman and it sparked the crowd to fight back when he shouted, “Why don’t you guys do something?” When an officer threw him into the police car for the last time, the crowd went berserk and the rebellion began.
Although it is not known if Stormé DeLarverie was the woman in police custody, beaten and bruised, he, and the woman, have been referred to as the “gay community’s Rosa Parks.”
Influence After Stonewall
With his costumes for his drag performances and tours with the Jewel Box Revue, Stormé had an influence on gender-nonconforming fashion decades before it became acceptable. Offstage he had a very striking androgynous presence– he was referred to as handsome and butch, some even mistook him for a man.
During the '80s and ’90s, DeLarverie worked as a bouncer at numerous lesbian bars in New York City. He became a member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, serving as an Ambassador and Chief of Security, eventually becoming the Vice President in 1998 until 2000.
He earned the title of “guardian of lesbians of the village,” through his time serving as a volunteer street patrol worker for years. He went on to organize various LGBT events and performed at benefits for battered women and children.
In 2014, Stormé DeLarverie passed away due to complications with dementia. Although he passed away, his legacy lives on in various civil rights movements and the impact he left by sparking the Stonewall Rebellion is felt through all LGBT individuals. His work as a civil rights activist and a lesbian defender lives on in with Pride celebrations, which he loved and almost never missed.