Stormé DeLarverie: Bouncer, activist, and drag king
The Stonewall riots is considered the most important catalyst for the gay liberation– and a tall, coffee-colored, cross-dressing woman may or may not have been the spark that triggered it.
By some accounts, singer Stormé DeLarverie was said to have thrown the first punch in retaliation against the policemen manhandling her. This provoked other gay patrons to join the scuffle.
Thus, a revolution was born.
Stormé DeLarverie at Stonewall Inn
The Stonewall Inn was a famous gay watering hole in Greenwich Village in New York. In the late 1960s, it had been targeted for police harassment and raided almost every night with the patrons being treated as criminals.
But on the night of June 27, 1969, a mulatto drag king who fit the description of DeLarverie protested at how the handcuffs on her were too tight. She then punched a policeman and called on the gay onlookers to join in.
“Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did. She told me she did,” DeLarverie’s legal guardian Lisa Cannistraci told The New York Times. Cannistraci also owned Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian bar in the Village.
The guardian called Storme DeLarverie
Born to a black mother and a white father, Stormé (pronounced stormy) DeLarverie began her career as a jazz singer in her teens, but later on she dressed as a man while performing.
Her most famous stint was part of the Jewel Box Revue. While the rest of the members were drag queens, Storme was the only drag king.
In between being a singer and a cross dresser, she was also a bouncer and bodyguard for mobsters in Chicago. This was perhaps one reason why she had the instinctive inclination to protect lesbians and gays after the Stonewall riots.
With the gun she carried– she had a state gun permit– she would check in on lesbian bars to make sure things were peaceful for her people.
“I can spot ugly in a minute,” she explained in an interview for Columbia University’s NYC Focus journalism project in 2009. She described this ugliness as any kind of intolerance, bullying or abuse against younger lesbians.
“No people even pull it around me that know me. They’ll just walk away, and that’s a good thing to do because I’ll either pick up the phone or I’ll nail you,” she added.
Stormé DeLarverie died of a heart attack at the age of 93 in May 2014.