Stormé DeLarverie

Posted September 6th, 2020 in LGBTQ+ History Blog ,News.

 

By: Jak Rogers

DOB: December 24th, 1920 – March 24th, 2014; age 93.


DeLarverie was born in New Orleans, LA to an African American mother and a white father. Due to the degree of racism in the United States during this time, Stormé was never issued a birth certificate. Therefore, she chose her own birthday as being December 24th.

From a young age, it seems that Stormé was met with resistance from those around her. She reported being bullied and beaten by both the black and white kids from her neighborhood, partially due to her father’s wealth and the other times due to the country’s increasing race relations. It is important to remember during the 1920s segregation was booming after being introduced to the Jim Crow Laws more than fifty years prior in 1865. Imagine how much resistance this family must have been met with. To account for how harsh the situations that Stormé was faced with in her early teenage years, a 2012 interview reported DeLarverie still has a scar on her leg from bullies. The story was that they had hung her up by her leg from a fence post, from this a brace that had to be worn for years (Interview regarding this information and second source). 

A positive factor that came out of her father’s wealth, is that it did happen to get DeLarverie privately educated which helped lessen the bullies that she had to deal with in the South. Talking about her father in an interview here, Ms. DeLarverie says, 

“He told me that if I never stopped running, I would be running for the rest of my life.” 

When her father told her this she was only 15. From that point on however, she had decided it would be the last time she would take any “ugliness” from anyone.

Stormé often used the word “ugly” to describe bigotry and discrimination of any kind against LGBTQ+ folx.

Soon after this at 18, is when DeLarverie decided to leave New Orleans and head for Chicago where her singing career took off! In the picture to the right is Stormé, the picture behind her to the left is at the beginning of her jazz singing career, to the right is a picture of her in 1961 as a male impersonator but still incorporating her singing career. If you would like hear Ms. Stormé sing a little, I encourage you to check out the video of her here. In the 50s and 60s she was known as the “one girl” to be traveling with the Jewel Box Revue. The Jewel Box Revue was a performance where 25 gay men who were female impersonators, or drag queens, would dress as women and sing. Then there was Stormé, the one gay woman who is a male impersonator or drag king. The Jewel Box Revue was very well known and one of the female impersonators went on to perform at Carnegie Hall, more information regarding this here. Ms. Stormé also went on to perform at Radio City Music Hall and for s short time regularly at The Apollo where it is no stranger to big names such as Ella Fitzgerald. For more information regarding The Apollo, refer here

 

Something else special also came out of DeLarverie’s singing career and that is Stomé’s long time committed partner and a former dancer named Diana. They had lived and been together for more than 25 years before Diana had passed away in the 1970s. It was said since the day that Diana had died that Stormé always carries a picture of her in her wallet wherever she would go.


Direct Impact from Stormé to the Queer Community

My interest in writing about Ms. Stormé DeLarverie is about much more than who she was as a person; it is the part that she played for the LGBTQIA+ community. DeLarverie identified outside of the binaries that society was trying to keep her in. She identified as a butch lesbian and has been known as the “self-appointed guardian of lesbians throughout Greenwich Village.” She has even held the title of the “Rosa Parks of Stonewall” Throughout her whole life she has been expressing gender nonconforming views, especially by the clothes she wore later in her life. Her masculine clothes alone from the 1940s to the 60s were seen as a form of protest or rebellion; this is because unofficial laws targeted queer individuals making it a requirement for the person to be wearing three articles of clothing of the “appropriate” sex to not be arrested for crossdressing. More information on where this discrimination began can be found here.

Aside from being herself as a sign of rebellion within the superficial standards of the early United States, Ms. Stormé has also been connected with one of the most important queer events in history:


The Stonewall Riots

As most anyone who has heard of the famous Stonewall Inn and the riots that followed in June of 1969, know there is another queer figure who usually leads the way; 

Ms. Marsha P. Johnson.

While no one will ever truly know who started the rebellion, there is no reason to cause fuss over it because both women have equally proved themselves more than allies to the queer community. With this said, there has been talk, other than Marsha throwing a brick at the police cars, that tells the other side to the story of the start of the riots at Stonewall including Stormé herself. Stormé was being arrested by the police and trying to be put in the back of a patty wagon with her handcuffed when she desperately cried out to the crowd surrounding her saying,

Why don’t you do something?”

After this, Stormé said that the crowd did just that leading to the next upcoming days of riots.

The last takeaway about the Stonewall Riots from Stormé is that she did not want to classify the uprising as a riot. Stormé wanted everyone to know that the acts from the Stonewall Inn was a rebellion, an uprising, and a civil rights disobedience.

Aside from the Stonewall Inn, Ms. Stormé tried to lead a rather quiet life while still advocating for others. She took on different bouncer jobs in New York City for gay bars, this includes The Cubby Hole and Henrietta Hudson. She ended up being vice president of the Stonewall Veterans Association for a while and even packing her own licensed gun when roaming the streets of New York City to patrol. Along with the reputation and these accomplishments, it is known that Stormé received quite a few awards for her contributions towards the queer community espeecially towards the end of her life. Just a month before her death she was honored for her fearlessness and bravery by the Brooklyn Community Pride Center. Other information regarding her achievements can be found at this website.

One quote that I would like to leave everyone with to think on is from Ms. Stormé DeLarverie herself, it says,

 “I don’t have a problem, everyone else did.

With the track record that Ms. Stormé has, I believe it is safe to say that it would be an honor to follow in her footsteps. This quote is a reminder to everyone how important self acceptance is and how successful one can be.

This quote also reminds us of the history that follows the queer movement to this day. The quote explains that there are always going to be those who oppose but your own conscious should be clean.

 

If you have made it to the end of this, congratulations and thank you so very much for staying this long. Next time there will be an update, the person of interest will be Florence Nightingale! Check back the week of the 14th for more information.


Other helpful resources used in this blog:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgCVNEiOwLs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storm%C3%A9_DeLarverie

Brownworth, V. A. (2015, May-June). The Herstory Pride Archives: why recording our lesbian history is important. Curve, 25(3), 16+. https://link-gale-com.liblink.uncw.edu/apps/doc/A415959295/ITOF?u=wilm99594&sid=ITOF&xid=ca13a92b

Yardley, W. (2014, May 30). Storme DeLarverie, 93, early leader in the gay rights movement, is dead. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.liblink.uncw.edu/docview/1941432318?accountid=14606

The banner is also credited to this website.