Monday, June 28, 2010

Who is Storme DeLarverie?

If you don't know who Storme DeLarverie is, you should read this article in The New York Times about the Stonewall veteran, now 89 and suffering from dementia. Her life and story are something we must not forget as we celebrate Gay Pride and LGBT history this month across the country, over 40 years since Stonewall:

Ms. DeLarverie fought the police in 1969 at the historic riot at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that kicked off the gay rights movement. The first gay pride parade in 1970 was not a parade at all but a protest marking the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

Some writers believe Ms. DeLarverie may have been the cross-dressing lesbian whose clubbing by the police was the catalyst for the riots (the woman has never been identified). While others are adamant that Ms. DeLarverie was not that woman, no one disputes that she was there, and no one doubts that the woman who had been fighting back all her life fought back in the summer of 1969.

It's sad, too, and frankly outrageous, the way that history is often forgotten and how these LGBT pioneers are sometimes just shoved away:

A small group of friends, including some of her neighbors at the Chelsea Hotel, visit her regularly. A social worker with the nonprofit group SAGE, which provides services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people, has been assisting Ms. DeLarverie since 1999, when she was at risk of eviction from the hotel.

Some of her friends said they had been frustrated by the way she was treated by the authorities and others, and they expressed disappointment that Ms. DeLarverie’s troubles have not been a widespread concern for many gay and lesbian activists.

“I feel like the gay community could have really rallied, but they didn’t,” said Lisa Cannistraci, a longtime friend of Ms. DeLarverie’s who is the owner of the lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson, where Ms. DeLarverie worked as a bouncer.

“The young gays and lesbians today have never heard of her,” Ms. Cannistraci said, “and most of our activists are young. They’re in their 20s and early 30s. The community that’s familiar with her is dwindling.”

Surely there is more we can do to honor Storme DeLarverie, starting with knowing that she refused to be treated as a second class citizen, stood up to authority and paved the way for all of us.