LGBT activist Storme DeLarverie lived a remarkable life and died at the age of 93 last week.
Individual human beings, and the actions they take, become the embodiment of LGBT history. Stormé DeLarverie was one such person. She was born sometime during 1920 in New Orleans to a White father and a Black mother and spent her childhood in the South before her family moved to California. Stormé made her life extraordinary from an early age. She began singing as a teenager first as a woman, but then later began dressing as a man. She claimed to have been a bodyguard for mobsters during a time when she lived in Chicago. Those who knew her wouldn’t doubt it. She was known her entire life for being a strong and imposing woman who looked after other members of her community.
She carried a gun permit well into her 80s, and would walk the streets of New York to make sure nobody was harrassing her fellow lesbians whom she called her ‘baby girls.’ It was this dedication to helping protect other LGBTQ individuals that led Stormé to enduringly mark her name in gay history on June 27th, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn.
“Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did,” said Ms. Cannistraci, an owner of the Village lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson. “She told me she did.”
Whether Stormé was indeed the first to fight back when police raided the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night is subject to debate — although she herself did not dwell on it during her life. Her only desire seemed to be for the well being of her friends and neighbors.
Stormé DeLarverie died of a heart attack on May 24 at age 93. Her life was a long one rich with experiences that few other people will be lucky enough — or unlucky enough — to have experienced. Yet, how many members of the LGBTQ community nationwide were aware of Stormé DeLarverie and her contributions to our history? It’s easy to overlook the importance of learning about the lives of our heroes and gay history in the midst of a still far from won movement to have our civil rights recognized. But perhaps as we finally secure the long and hard won victory for marriage equality in the next several years, we can begin to focus in on the task of preserving the memories of those who sacrificed so much of their lives to moving us forward.
We’ve all ready had a great start in California where LGBTQ history will be taught in all public school curriculum starting in 2015. Furthermore, on Friday the National Park Service made a major announcement. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced at the Stonewall Inn that the Park Service will begin a nationwide effort to install markers at locations which are of significance to LGBTQ history.
Jewell said the nation is on a journey to expand civil rights to underrepresented groups. The process on LGBT issues mirrors efforts the service already has undertaken to preserve and promote locations that reflect the roles of Latinos, Asian-Americans and women in U.S. history.
“Part of the job of the National Park Service is to tell this story,” she said.
However, it’s still important to note that a majority of states teach nothing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender history. There are also eight states that have a ban on teaching anything positive about gay relationships or gay history according to Eliza Byard, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The Park Service, for its part, has put together a panel of 18 scholars who will study the LGBTQ movement’s history in areas including law, religion, the arts, media and the civil rights movement. The committee will then suggest certain sites where markers should be installed. Byard emphasized the importance of this move by the Federal government saying,
“Symbolically it’s hugely important that now LGBT history is officially part of the national narrative,” Byard said. “This is part of what our federal government will identify, preserve and single out.”
Sadly, most students across the country won’t be learning about Stormé’s contributions in their history classes anytime soon. For now, we can give ourselves a history lesson regarding this legendary individual. Take a look at this 2009 interview by Kirk Klocke for Columbia University’s NYC in Focus journalism project.
Stonewall Veteran’s Wisdom on ‘Ugliness’ from Kirk Klocke on Vimeo.
Image: Vimeo screenshot
Thomas Alberts is a Seattle based activist and writer. He holds a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender Studies from Weber State University. He currently serves on the volunteer board for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and interns as a blogger for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. He also previously worked with Planned Parenthood Global in New York and Washington, D.C. as a Global Youth Advocacy Fellow, and has written for RH Reality Check. Thomas can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and A Few Choice Words.