I read today of the death of Stormé DeLarverie. She died May 24th, 2014 at the age of 93 in the Brooklyn nursing home which had been her home in the final years of her life. I confess I did not recognize her name at first. Shame on me.
Born in 1920 in New Orleans to a Caucasian father and an African- American mother, DeLarverie, a lesbian, spent much of the 1950’s and 1960’s working as a male impersonator in The Jewel Box Revue; a female impersonation company who toured the black theater circuit. The Jewel Box Revue was the first racially integrated female impersonation show on the circuit and DeLarverie was their only “drag king”.
DeLarverie became famous, not for her skill as a male impersonator, but for being among the group of people who confronted the New York police when they raided The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. That confrontation kicked off what has come to be known as the Stonewall Riots. Many regard it as the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement in the United States.
In the 1980s and ’90s DeLarverie was still a fixture in the NYC gay community, working as a bouncer in lesbian bars in the city into her 70’s.
In 1987 Michelle Parkerson made a movie of her life and experiences; Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box.
The not-so-passive resistance of DeLarverie and her colleagues affected my life, and lives of many of the people I know, in a profound way. I was 13 years old in 1969. It would be years before I would hear about the Stonewall Riots. It would be more than a decade before I would come to understand they had anything to do with me. In 1994 I went to New York for the march organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. It is an important memory.
I am sorry I did not recognize her name. All of us in the generations that followed owe her a great deal.
Thank you and rest in peace.