Issues + Advocacy

“It Wasn’t No Damn Riot”: Celebrating Stonewall Uprising Activist Stormé DeLarverie

“Why don’t you do something?” – Stormé DeLarverie during the Stonewall Uprising in 1969

It’s tempting to think that change happens in the pristine halls of our government, or in air-conditioned conferences rooms. And it sometimes does.

Transformation, however, happens in the streets, most often led by people who have been pushed so far into the corners, with their backs against the ropes, that they have nothing left to do but push back. On June 28, 1969, Stormé DeLarverie did just that. Protecting the younger queer folks around her who had also been harassed, searched, and arrested one time too many, Stormé fought back against police violence that had come to characterize the queer social scene in New York City in the late 1960s. Her fight against the police and call to action was answered by Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and other trans women of color as well as others in the LGBTQ+ community. Their bravery led to what is now known as the Stonewall Uprising which catalyzed into the gay rights movement as we know it today. 

In ways big and small, The Riveter stands with women and their allies truly dedicated to equity of opportunity for all. We are honored to rename a conference room at The Riveter Capitol Hill after Stormé, a true unsung hero whose life before and after June 28, 1969, made a difference in her community and the world. This one small action keeps Stormé’s name alive among all those who enter our space and opens doors to learn about who she was, and answer her call to make a difference in our communities. Read on to learn more about the legacy of this activist legend.

Stormé DeLarverie was a civil rights activist and the legendary Stonewall butch lesbian who “threw the first punch” of the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969. Often known as the “Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ+ community,” Stormé’s call to action defined the turning point of the modern Gay Rights Movement. 

Ongoing, relentless campaigns targeting queer social venues in New York City were commonplace in the late 1960s. City statute authorized police officers to raid bars and force patrons to show identification, often subjecting “cross-dressers” to body searches under threat of arrest.

As she was attacked during a raid of The Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Stormé fought back against police violence, yelling to the crowd: Why don’t you do something? Stormé’s call to action galvanized others to resist, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women of color who went on to build their own legacies as pioneer activists for gay rights.

Beyond her role in the Stonewall Uprising, Stormé was a trailblazer in the entertainment industry. She toured as a jazz singer in the 1940s to 1960s and rose to fame as an accomplished drag king in queer cabaret circles, paving the way for other women of color and LGBTQ+ performers.

Stormé spent decades as a volunteer street patroler, protecting the lesbian and queer community of New York City up until retirement in her eighties. She is an unsung pioneer who spent her lifetime fighting bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience— it wasn’t no damn riot.” – Stormé DeLarverie

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