A new column by Erica Barz
One year ago, my fiancé and I were in New York City. It was our last trip before the pandemic hit, and we’ve been looking back on it fondly over the past several months. One of the places we visited was Henrietta Hudson, one of the oldest (and few remaining) lesbian bars in the country.
We went on a Monday night, so it was pretty quiet. Just us and a few women, I’m sure, were regulars and friends with the people who worked there. It’s a small bar with a cozy “hole in the wall” vibe that I enjoyed. Nestled in the back of the bar, next to the single obligatory pool table, is a wall mural depicting Storm é DeLarverie.
If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s likely due to her involvement in the Stonewall Uprising. Queer legend has it that she was the person who threw the first punch, sparking the flame that ignited the LGBTQ rights movement. She was known for defending her community against the “ugliness” of homophobic violence and intolerance, guarding the queer bars in Greenwich Village for decades as a bouncer. She was also a performer with the Jewel Box Revue, the first integrated drag production.
Despite her titanic role in crafting the LGBTQ rights movement as we know it today, Storm é DeLarverie found herself in an all too common
position for older LGBTQ people near the end of her life, especially older Black LGBTQ people. Due to the failure of our country’s healthcare and financial systems to serve people like her, she was penniless and socially isolated from all but a few friends who did all they could to provide for her. If you’re a podcast person, I highly recommend listening to “The Cowboy of the West Village,” an episode of The Nod where Storm é ’s friends share how they came together to take care of her as she had taken care of her community.
This Black History Month, I urge you to not only learn about Black LGBTQ icons of the past but find and support the Black LGBTQ icons living and working in your community. We cannot allow the Storm é DeLarverie’s of today to fade into obscurity, and we must care for our community leaders when broader societal systems fail to do so.
Pictured above: Stonewall Veteran and Drag King Icon, Storme DeLarverie
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