Storme DeLarverie, a singer, cross-dresser and bouncer who may or may not have thrown the first punch at the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, but who was indisputably one of the first and most assertive members of the gay rights movement, died May 24 in New York. She was 93.
Her death, following a heart attack on Friday, was confirmed by Lisa Cannistraci, one of her legal guardians.
No one questions whether DeLarverie was there on June 27, 1969, the night the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, setting off protests that helped start the gay rights movement and are now commemorated during New York’s annual Gay Pride Week.
But was she the cross-dressing lesbian whose clubbing by the police helped set the chaos in motion? Some witnesses have said yes, others no.
“Nobody knows who threw the first punch, but it’s rumored that she did, and she said she did,” said Cannistraci, an owner of the Village lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson. “She told me she did.”
DeLarverie was a member of the Stonewall Veterans Association and a regular at the pride parade, but she rarely dwelled on her actions that night. Her role in the movement lasted long after 1969. For decades she was a self-appointed guardian of lesbians in the Village.
Tall, androgynous and armed — she held a state gun permit — DeLarverie roamed into her 80s, patrolling the sidewalks and checking in at lesbian bars. She was on the lookout for what she called “ugliness”: any form of intolerance, bullying or abuse of her “baby girls.”
DeLarverie had grown up in the South, of mixed race, and spent part of the first half of her life singing and performing as a man. Identity, for her, had been especially complicated, and she did not want others persecuted for theirs.
“I can spot ugly in a minute,” she said in a 2009 interview for Columbia University’s NYC in Focus journalism project. “No people even pull it around me that know me. They’ll just walk away, and that’s a good thing to do because I’ll either pick up the phone or I’ll nail you.”
Storme DeLarverie (her first name sounds like stormy; her last name is pronounced de-LAR-ver-ee) was born in 1920 in New Orleans. She celebrated her birthday on Dec. 24, though she told people that she was not certain that was the actual day because of the circumstances of her birth. Her mother, who was black, was a servant in the house of her father, who was white. At some point her father married her mother, and the family moved to California.
She said in interviews that she had begun performing as a singer by her late teens, first as a woman and later dressed as a man. For a while she sang in a jazz group and performed in Europe. Captured on tape at nearly 90, she still sounded smooth singing “Since I Fell for You.”
No immediate family members survive. Cannistraci said that DeLarverie had told her that she had lived for 25 years with a dancer named Diana, who died in the 1970s, and that DeLarverie had always carried her photograph.