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Wed, 12.24.1930

Stormé DeLarverie, Lesbian Singer born

Stormé DeLarverie

*Stormé DeLarverie was born on this date in 1920. She was a Black singer, butch lesbian, fashion designer, and LGBT activist.

She was born in New Orleans to a black mother and a white father. DeLarverie's father was wealthy, and her mother worked as a servant for his family. According to DeLarverie, she was never given a birth certificate and was unsure of her actual date. She celebrated her birthday on Christmas Eve. Her father paid for her education, and her grandfather primarily raised her. As a biracial child, DeLarverie faced bullying and harassment from the other children. "The white kids were beating me up; the Black kids were. Everybody was jumping on me. For being a negro with a white face." 

She rode jumping horses with the Ringling Brothers Circus as a teenager. She stopped riding horses after being injured in a fall. She realized she was lesbian near the age of eighteen. Biracial and androgynous, she could pass for white or Black, male or female. She was picked up twice on the streets by police who mistook her for a drag queen.

From 1955 to 1969, DeLarverie toured the black theater circuit as the MC (and only drag king) of the Jewel Box Revue, North America's first racially integrated drag revue. The revue regularly played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, as well as to mixed-race audiences. She performed as a baritone. During shows, audience members would try to guess who the "one girl" was among the revue performers. In the end, Stormé would reveal herself as a woman during a musical number called "A Surprise with a Song," often wearing tailored suits and sometimes a mustache that made her "unidentifiable" to audience members.

As a singer, she drew inspiration from Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday (both of whom she knew personally). During this era, when very few drag kings were performing, her unique drag style and subversive performances became celebrated and influential and are now known to have set a historical precedent. Her partner, a dancer, named Diana, lived with her for about 25 years until dying in the 1970s. According to friend Lisa Cannistraci, DeLarverie always carried a photograph of Diana with her. 

She is known as "the Rosa Parks of the gay community," whose scuffle with police was, according to Stormé and many eyewitnesses, the spark that ignited the Stonewall uprising, spurring the crowd to action. Influence on fashion With her theatrical experience in costuming, performance, and makeup, biracial DeLarverie could pass as either a man or a woman, Black or white. Offstage, she cut a striking, handsome, androgynous presence and inspired other lesbians to adopt what had formerly been "men's" clothing as streetwear.

She was photographed by artist Diane Arbus and other friends and lovers in the arts community in three-piece suits and "men's" hats. She influenced gender-nonconforming women's fashion for decades before unisex styles became accepted. On June 7, 2012, Brooklyn Pride, Inc. honored Stormé DeLarverie at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. Michelle Parkerson's film, Stormé: The Lady of the Jewel Box was screened. On April 24, 2014, DeLarverie was honored alongside Edith Windsor by the Brooklyn Community Pride Center "for her fearlessness and bravery" and was also presented with a proclamation from New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.

DeLarverie suffered from dementia in her later years. From 2010 to 2014, she lived in a nursing home in Brooklyn. However, her memories of her childhood and the Stonewall Uprisings remained strong. She died in her sleep on May 24, 2014, in Brooklyn. No immediate family members were alive at her time of death. Lisa Cannistraci, who became one of DeLarverie's legal guardians, stated that the cause of death was a heart attack. She remembers DeLarverie as "an earnest woman when it came to protecting people she loved." A funeral was on May 29, 2014, at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home.

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