Happy Pride month to all our LGBTQIA+ readers! Last year we celebrated Marsha P Johnson and this year we want to celebrate Pride even more, so all this month we’ll be bringing you some of the most incredible players in the fight for LGBQTIA+ rights!
Lets kick things off with the story of stone cold butch babe Stormé DeLarverie.
Stormé was known in LGBT circles as the ‘Lesbian Rosa Parks’ she fought against ‘ugly’ (her term for bigotry and hatred) for her entire life and always looked out for others.
There’s a Stormé coming
She was born in New Orleans in 1920 to her mother, an African American servant and her father, who was head of the white family her mother worked for. Her parents eventually married and moved to California.
In her teens Stormé realised 2 major things:
A) that she was a lesbian
B) she had a talent for singing and keeping a captive audience.
During the 1940s Stormé toured with a jazz trio as the singer. Stormé started performing in drag around this time and made quite a name for herself as an accomplished Drag King in queer cabaret circles.
She also performed as part of the Jewel Box Review, a drag cabaret, which featured predominantly drag queens and one drag king; our gal Stormé.
Stormé spent the rest of the 1950s and 60s crooning jazz numbers to enthusiastic queer crowds
Stormé and Stonewall
Things started to get real rough for Stormé. You see, in the late 60’s there was a relentless campaign against Queer hot spots in New York City by the police and tensions were at an all time high.
On June 29th 1969 Stormé was hanging out near the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, having recently come back from touring with the Jewel Box. She was having a wonderful time, drinking and socialising with her mates.
Suddenly police descended on the Stonewall Inn. They forced their way into the bar at around 1.20am and started forcefully dragging patrons outside. The police molested lesbians, beat up young men who resisted arrest and refused to show identification (cross dressing was ILLEGAL then)
Stormé saw one of her friends being assaulted by police. She was not having it. She fought back and threw a punch at one of the policemen, after he assaulted her.
Stormé was then handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police van, but she kept escaping amidst the chaos. She complained her handcuffs were too tight and she was beaten about the head with a baton.
Bleeding and being dragged back to the police van again Stormé addressed the growing crowd directly.
‘WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING?’
The crowds outside started to fight back against the police AND SHIT KICKED OFF!
Speaking later about the Stonewall Uprising she said
“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience–it wasn’t no damn riot.”
Don’t forget she was nearly 50 when she fought back against the police. She was known for being lovely, but tough as fucking nails.
Stormé: The Later Years
After Stonewall Stormé was an important member of the SVA, The Stonewall Veterans Association, she was a key figure in NY Pride often appearing with her car, which was well known for being parked outside the gay bars in Greenwich Village and was actually outside Stonewall Inn the night of the riots!
She settled in Brooklyn, New York in her later years, giving up touring and promptly appointed herself protector of lesbians within Greenwich village in NYC.
Stormé would patrol round the local LGBT hot spots checking everyone was ok. She did this well into her 80s.
She was a much loved and familiar face as a bouncer to local gay clubs. She greeted everyone with ‘Hey babies’, or ‘Hey love’ and always encouraged everyone to get home safe.
Stormé was full of love for her community.
Stormé passed away in 2014 at the grand old age of 93, and was an inspiration to so many people, myself very much included, showing us that displaying kindness didn’t mean you couldn’t be tough and fight for what you believed in.
That was interesting where can I find out more? Well there’s a short documentary on Stormé called Stormé: Lady of the Jewel Box and you can find it here on YouTube! It’s about her time working on the Jewel Box Revue and shows her working as a bouncer in the 80’s.
Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.