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  • Stormé DeLarverie Inspiring Woman

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    Stormé DeLarverie Sweetrocks Inspiring Woman

    Stormé DeLarverie (December 24, 1920 – May 24, 2014) was a butch lesbian whose scuffle with police was, according to Stormé and many eyewitnesses, the spark that ignited the Stonewall riots, spurring the crowd to action. She was born in New Orleans, to an African American mother and a white father. She is remembered as a gay civil rights icon and entertainer, who performed and hosted at the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall. She worked for much of her life as an MC, singer, bouncer, bodyguard and volunteer street patrol worker, the “guardian of lesbians in the Village.” She is known as “the Rosa Parks of the gay community.”

    From 1955 to 1969 DeLarverie toured the black theater circuit as the MC (and only drag king) of the Jewel Box Revue, North America’s first racially integrated drag revue. The revue regularly played the Apollo Theater in Harlem, as well as to mixed-race audiences, something that was still rare during the era of Racial segregation in the United States. She performed as a baritone.

    During shows audience members would try to guess who the “one girl” was, among the revue performers, and at the end Stormé would reveal herself as a woman during a musical number called, “A Surprise with a Song,” often wearing tailored suits and sometimes a moustache that made her “unidentifiable” to audience members. As a singer, she drew inspiration from Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday (both of whom she knew in person). During this era when there were very few drag kings performing, her unique drag style and subversive performances became celebrated, influential, and are now known to have set a historic precedent.

    In 1987 Michelle Parkerson released the first cut of the movie, Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box, about DeLarverie and her time with the revue.

    With her theatrical experience in costuming, performance and makeup, biracial DeLarverie could pass as either a man or a woman, Black or white. Offstage, she cut a striking, handsome, androgynous presence, and inspired other lesbians to adopt what had formerly been considered “men’s” clothing as street wear. She was photographed by renowned artist Diane Arbus, as well as other friends and lovers in the arts community, in three piece suits and “men’s” hats. She is now considered to have been an influence on gender-nonconforming women’s fashion decades before unisex styles became accepted.

    In the 1980s and 1990s she worked as a bouncer for several lesbian bars in New York City. She was a member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, holding the offices of Chief of Security, Ambassador and, in 1998 to 2000, Vice President. She was a regular at the gay pride parade. For decades Delarverie served the community as a volunteer street patrol worker, the “guardian of lesbians in the Village.”

    In addition to her work for the LGBT community, she also organized and performed at benefits for battered women and children. When asked about why she chose to do this work, 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 said, ‘I wouldn’t be here.'”

    For several decades, DeLarverie lived at New York City’s famous Hotel Chelsea, where she “thrived on the atmosphere created by the many writers, musicians, artists, and actors.” Cannistraci says that DeLarverie continued working as a bouncer until age 85.

    In June 2019, DeLarvarie was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history, and the wall’s unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

    On June 7, 2012, Brooklyn Pride, Inc. honored Stormé DeLarverie at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. Michelle Parkerson’s film. Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box, was screened. On April 24, 2014, DeLarverie was honored alongside Edith Windsor by the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, “for her fearlessness and bravery” and was also presented with a proclamation from New York City Public Advocate, Letitia James.

    She died in her sleep on May 24, 2014, in Brooklyn.] No immediate family members were alive at her time of death. Lisa Cannistraci, who became one of DeLarverie’s legal guardians, stated that the cause of death was a heart attack. She remembers DeLarverie as “a very serious woman when it came to protecting people she loved.” A funeral was held May 29, 2014, at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home.

    Thank you Stormé DeLarverie (#StorméDeLarverie) for being an Inspiring Woman!

     

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