'She Literally Walked the Streets of Downtown Manhattan Like a Gay Superhero'

Storme DeLarverie, RIP


Obit of the week: The New York Times' look back at the life of Storme DeLarverie, who just died at age 93. The headline identifies her as an "early leader in the gay rights movement," but that bland summary turns out only to scratch the surface of her life:

Tall, androgynous and armed—she held a state gun permit—Ms. DeLarverie roamed lower Seventh and Eighth Avenues and points between 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."

Ms. 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….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."

There was a long period in Chicago, where, she told friends, she was a bodyguard for mobsters. From the mid-1950s through the 1960s Ms. DeLarverie was the M.C. of the Jewel Box Revue, billed as "an unusual variety show." She dressed as a man; the rest of the cast members, all men, dressed as women.

By some accounts, DeLarverie threw the first punch against the cops in the Stonewall riot of '69, literally striking the blow that began the modern gay liberation movement. She may have devoted a great deal of her life to protecting people's physical security, but that doesn't mean she identified with the police. Vice cops raiding gay bars are attacking people, not defending them; when they tried to bust the customers at the Stonewall Inn, DeLarverie knew which side she belonged on. (Besides: The cops were trying to beat the hell out of her. That's always clarifying.)

"She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero," the owner of a Village lesbian bar told the Times. I can't think of a better eulogy than that.