Stormé DeLarverie: “The Gay Community’s Rosa Parks”

Our Peace OUT exhibition about LGBT+ activism and peacemaking begins with commemorating the Stonewall uprising, 50 years since the riot in New York City. It features activists such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. However, as one of our visitors noted, we did not mention the role of Stormé DeLarverie. Many witnesses who were at the Stonewall Inn said that it was a lesbian who after being hit by the police, called out to the crowd watching “Why don’t you guys do something?”. This began the start of the Gay Liberation front and peaceful campaigning that still continues to this day.

When the team were conducting research for the exhibition, we were not able to identify the name of the person who had called out to the crowd. However, in July, a visitor to the museum noticed this and shared with us the story of Stormé. Over the years, many people there on that night had identified Stormé as the ‘Stonewall Lesbian’, but it wasn’t until 2008 that she herself confirmed it was her. She never wanted to take credit for her actions, even though many have called her the ‘Gay community’s Rosa Parks’.

Stormé DeLarverie was born to a black mother and white father on 24th December 1920; her mother was a servant to Stormé’s father’s family. As a mixed-race child, she was declined a birth certificate. Later, she continued to live on the edge of seemingly opposite identities. Stormé refused to choose between living as a man or woman. She decided to be officially documented as African-American, but she often used the fact she could be easily identified as white, especially when travelling with the drag show Jewel Box Revue, the first racially integrated drag revue. She worked as an MC and the only drag king.

After the Stonewall Riots and death of her girlfriend Diana, DeLarverie abandoned the entertainment scene and worked for years as a bouncer (she preferred to call herself “babysitter of my people, all the boys and girls”) in lesbian bars. She was also a member, and eventually Vice President, of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association and is well known for as a leader of annual New York City Gay Pride Parade.  She was also involved in charity work for victims of violence and domestic abuse.

DeLarverie passed away in 2014, aged 94. It is said that she has been erased from history as an outsider in LGBT community, however learning about DeLarverie and her legacy is important as we continue to work towards equality.

Come and visit the museum to explore LGBTQ+ peacemaking in Peace OUT. We are continually adding to this exhibition and sharing the voices of those who have, and continue, to campaign peacefully for LGBTQ+ issues. Get in touch with a member of staff if you have a story to share.

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