The Icons is a four-part series through which we will explore the little-known stories of LGBTQ Black History icons
recognized her birthday as December 24, 1920, although no one is completely sure of the exact date due to the circumstances surrounding her birth. According to the New York Times, DeLarverie was born in New Orleans to a Black mother who worked as a servant in a home where her white father resided. Eventually, her parents married, and together, the family relocated to California.
DeLarverie, a musician and cross-dresser, began performing at nightclubs as a Jazz singer in her late teens. At first, she performed as a woman, but she eventually started acting as a man. She would go on to host the Jewel Box Revue variety show where she dressed as a man and the male cast members dressed as women.
“There were around 25 guys and me,” she told Ellen Degeneres of her work in 2010, according to GQ.
She is most known for the role that she played in the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Some say that DeLarverie threw the first punch that escalated things against police while others argue differently.
“Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did,” Lisa Cannistraci, who served as Stormé’s legal guardian before she died, said to the Times. “She told me she did.”
However, this sometimes disputed tidbit is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the gay rights activist’s tough persona is concerned. She once told friends that she worked in Chicago as a security guard for mobsters and it’s believed that this experience is what helped to set her up as the self-proclaimed guardian of the lesbians in Manhattan’s Village.
DeLarverie, who owned a gun permit, often roamed the lower Seventh and Eighth Avenues armed and frequently checked in at lesbian bars well into her 80s in search of signs of intolerance or bullying against women.
“She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero,” Cannistraci said. “She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”
For years, DeLarverie resided at the Chelsea Hotel and earned a living as a security guard at the Cubby Hole as well as for Cannistraci at Henrietta Hudson. DeLarverie’s fascinating life and drag persona have been the subject of several documentaries, including Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box.
DeLarverie reportedly lived with a dancer named Diana for 25 years until the woman passed away in the ’70s. Cannistraci and another friend of DeLarverie, Michele Zalopany, became her legal guardians several years before her death following a series of mental health and housing-related challenges.
She died in May of 2014 following a heart attack. She was 93 years old.