Stonewall Activist Inspires Through Caregivershttp://fort-greene.thelocal.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/64992/
By NANCY BRUNI,
Someone once told me that history is a living thing and that we must know our past in order to progress into the future. And that's exactly what Storme DeLarvarie, a local legend whose storied past helped pave the way for recent gains in gay rights, is for locals — someone who continues to inspire other people's futures.
There have been many stories written on Ms. DeLarvarie — and her life reads like a best seller. She was the woman who threw the first punch at police during the 1969 Stonewall Riot, which many historians say started the Gay Rights Movement. She was a jazz singer and drag king at the Jewel Box Revue at a time when that was taboo. She was even reputed to have been involved with the Chicago mob.
She is also bi-racial, growing up in an era when when interracial marriages were illegal and mixed race children were looked down upon. At 90, she is suffering from vascular dementia but her eyes are still bright, her stance still fierce and she is ready to retell her story for a new generation.
To help tell Storme's story, I met with Lisa Cannistraci, owner of Henrietta Hudson, a lesbian bar in the West Village, who along with Michele Zalopany fought the New York State for custody of Ms. DeLarvarie and won. We all met at Consumer Action Bed-Stuy Nursing Home, where Ms. DeLarvarie is well taken care of and as feisty as ever.
Nancy Bruni: Thank you, Lisa, for helping to introduce Storme to our community. You have been an incredible friend to Storme. You've not only looked after her, but fought for her when people tried to take advantage of her, took care of her when she was being evicted, and battled for her custody. Not too many people would bother with that. Why did you do it?
Lisa Cannistraci: As a human being I could not stand by and watch someone who has been in my life for 25 years slip through the cracks. Storme thrives on being a part of "community." I knew that if I did not reach out and let her know she was still a part of something that she would disappear inside herself and be very lonely. All people deserve respect and recognition and that is what I wanted to give to Storme.
NB: What kind of friend has Storme been for you?
LC: Storme has been a remains a wonderful friend. Even at 90 years old there is so much light and love inside of her. We can communicate to each other with a smile or a glance.
NB: We've finally succeeded in passing the same sex marriage act in New York State. That is 42 years after the Stonewall Riots, any thoughts?
LC: I am personally thrilled that Marriage Equality has passed in New York and it happened in Storme's lifetime. It is a prime example of what grass roots organizations can accomplish when there is a definitive and passionate agenda. I am thrilled that we now have the right of our heterosexual counterparts. I currently reside on the Board of Marriage Equality New York. The board is remaining intact to push Marriage Equality in other states and to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
NB: Storme had an incredible history as someone who dared to live life as she wanted to, without fear of persecution. What is the one advice you can give to kids who are struggling with their sexuality and their identity?
LC: I love the "It Gets Better" campaign. It's so true. It does get better. Sexuality is a tough thing to struggle with, but young people also struggle with many other issues. Growing up is difficult for all. My advice would be that they be true to themselves and be tough.
NB: How about advice to parents on acceptance?
LC: My advice to parents on acceptance is simple: Love your kid! If any folks are having difficulties accepting their child's sexuality I would highly recommend PFLAG: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
NB: Storme comes from a time when being bi-racial meant that you had to choose to be either Black or White, what was her choice?
LC: Storme was born in the Deep South in New Orleans in 1920. Her Mom was Black and her Dad was White. As a biracial child she was not issued a birth certificate. She opted to be Black out of respect for her Mom. Storme is very light skinned and could have easily passed as White. Storme has always faced adversity head on even from a young age.
NB: If there's a tagline that you would like Storme to be remembered by, what would it be?
LC: Storme's tagline is, "Don't you mess with my Baby Girls!"