A Pride Story
She was cut from the movie, his-story was rewritten as usual, but let’s set the record straight (no pun intended): a butch lesbian was responsible for starting the first Stonewall riot at 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969. That night, a brave woman of color, Stormé DeLarverie was hit on the head with a billy club and handcuffed. She was bleeding from the head when she brazenly turned to the crowd and hollered, “WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING!?”
After a long struggle, Stormé was dragged into a paddy wagon and that’s when the scene exploded. That summer night a revolution began and it was a strong butch woman of color that is reported to have thrown the first punch. Exactly one year later, on June 28,1970, the first Pride parade took place. It was more of a political demonstration in response to what happened at Stonewall.
“One year after the Stonewall Riots galvanized New York’s fearful gay men and lesbians into fighters, a handful of us planned our first march. We had no idea how it would turn out. We weren’t even certain we would be granted a permit. And now, here we were, June 28, 1970, with people gathered west of Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place.” —Fred Sargeant, The Village Voice
The Stonewall Inn was owned and operated by the Mafia. They checked through a peephole before you could enter, and if you weren’t gay, you weren’t getting into the club. When police officers would barge in, it meant trouble. Back then, cross-dressing was illegal and you could be arrested for not wearing a certain number of “gender-appropriate” articles of clothing.
“The name Stormé DeLarverie may not ring a bell, but it should.”
Stormé DeLarverie, who was born to an African American mother and a white father in the 1920s, performed as a drag king and was one of several “butch” lesbians that fought against the police on the night of the riots. When Stormé threw the very first punch that night, it was in self-defense. “The cop hit me, and I hit him back,” Stormé recounted.
“The name Stormé DeLarverie may not ring a bell, but it should. Some have referred to her as ‘the Gay Community’s Rosa Parks.’ “ —After Ellen
Stormé DeLarverie never sought to take credit for spurring a historical movement. But many recount her call to arms—and the powerful words she shouted with all her might that incited the Stonewall riots.
“That night, the gay men, lesbians, drag queens and drag kings who hung out there decided to fight back.” —Washington Post
Stormé DeLarverie served the lesbian community for decades as a volunteer street patrol worker. She patrolled the lesbian bars to keep what she lovingly referred to as her “baby girls” safe. She was androgynous, tall, dark, handsome and legally armed. She did this all the way up until she was 80-something-years-old, retiring in the early 2000s. In 2017, there are less than a handful of lesbian bars remaining in the U.S. The last remaining lesbian bar in San Francisco, the Lexington Club, closed its doors in 2015. Stormé is fondly remembered as a “gay superhero”—a fearless protector of the lesbian spaces that have all but gone extinct.
Stormé DeLarverie died in her sleep in Brooklyn on May 24, 2014.
Julia Diana Robertson is the author of the recently published novel Beyond the Screen Door. You can find her (and her fiction) at www.juliadianarobertson.com