Stormé DeLarverie threw ‘first punch’ for gay rights
- The Stonewall Inn was a refuge for the LGBTQ+ community.
- Stormé DeLarverie acted as the “lesbian guardian” of Seventh and Eighth Avenue, Manhattan.
- DeLarverie was present the moment the “Stonewall Uprising” occurred.
Stonewall Inn was a place of refuge
June 28, 1969, was a typical Saturday morning at the Stonewall Inn for Stormé DeLarverie. She was enjoying herself, drinking and socializing with friends at “Stonewall,” one of New York’s last standing gay bars.
Inside, men dressed in drag, women wore men’s clothing, and same-sex couples were able to be together peacefully. This was a time when simply holding hands and kissing in public was illegal to same-sex couples.
At Stonewall, there was no judgment, eye-glaring, contempt, or malice — only free-flowing booze, and personal freedom.
Though it was nowhere near perfect, the Stonewall Inn was a hidden sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community.
That peace, unfortunately, did not last.
On that morning, paddy wagons followed by a small fleet of police raided the club. They barged in and rounded anyone they could get their hands on.
This included DeLarverie, who stood out with her short-cropped blond hair and androgynous appearance.
Police dragged out bartenders and harassed anyone who wore anything that violated the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute. Although officers entered the bar under the pretense of addressing illegal alcohol sold in the bar, it was all a cover to assault its patrons.
The assault was so invasive, there were reports of female officers taking suspected cross-dressers into the bathroom to “check their sex.”
Fight for your right
Out in the street, an officer cracked DeLarverie over the head with a billy club. In retaliation, she turned around swinging. This retaliation triggered what would eventually be become known as the “Stonewall Uprising,” which served as the foundation for the gay rights movement.
“That was no riot,” DeLarverie said in an In The Life interview. “Everyone says it was a riot. It was disobedience. And then they started fighting back. It was a rebellion.”
Although there is no evidence DeLaverie threw the first punch, she certainly claimed to have done so.
“Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did,” her friend Lisa Cannistraci told the New York Times in 2014. “She told me she did.”
Since the Stonewall riots, Stormé DeLaverie has become an LGBTQ+ icon. While DeLarverie played a minor role in a major chain of events, who was she really?
DeLarverie was born into a mixed-race family in New Orleans in 1920 — her mother was black and her father was white. As a young adult, she spent the ‘50s and ‘60s as the only “male impersonator” in a racially integrated drag troupe called the Jewel Box Revue.
She also frequently dressed in men’s clothing, often sporting a zoot suit or tuxedo and surrounded by men dressed in drag.
“There were around 25 guys and me,” DeLarverie said on AfterEllen.com in a 2010 interview.
Eventually, she moved on from working in entertainment to become a bodyguard and then a bouncer.
Lesbian protector of Seventh and Eighth Avenue
DeLarverie’s involvement in the Stonewall Uprising led her to become a safeguard in the LGBTQ+ community. Up until her 80s, DeLevarie would serve as an ambassador and member of the Stonewall Veterans Association.
Carrying a state-issued gun permit, DeLarverie would walk patrol the streets to check-in at lesbian bars.
The New York Times reported, “She was on the lookout for what she called ‘ugliness” — any form of intolerance, bullying or abuse” against her fellow lesbians, whom she lovingly called “baby girls.”
“She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”
Up until her retirement, DeLarverie lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, the same hotel that housed famous artists, writers, and entertainers like Mark Twain and Bob Dylan.
In her remaining years, DeLarverie was cared for in a Brooklyn nursing home, where she died at age 93 in 2014.
A deeper dive: Related reading on the 101
- Showcases a woman’s heartfelt protest to save a redwood forest.
- Learn how much it costs to look so fabulous.
- LGBTQ+ individuals have been present throughout history.