Hundreds Mourn Gay Rights Pioneer at Memorial

By Danielle Tcholakian on May 30, 2014 8:44am 

Slideshow
 Old friends and young LGBT New Yorkers packed into Greenwich Village Funeral Home for Stormé DeLarverie's memorial Thursday night.
Storme DeLarverie Memorial
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — Hundreds of friends and admirers packed a memorial for Stormé DeLarverie at Greenwich Village Funeral Home Thursday night, remembering a woman they described as a tough, loving leader of the city's LGBT rights movement.

DeLarverie died Saturday, May 24 at age 93, exactly one month after she received a lifetime achievement award at a Brooklyn Community Pride Center gala alongside Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

"She's somebody who has this rich and beautiful history," Brooklyn Community Pride Center Executive Director Erin Drinkwater said at the memorial, highlighting DeLarverie's role at the forefront of the Stonewall riots and her work, years later, providing meals for people dying of AIDS.

"She fought back and then never turned her back to the community," Drinkwater continued. "She's just phenomenal. She was a true hero to the movement."

DeLarverie grew up in New Orleans, the daughter of a black mother and a white father, friends said. She was committed to being true to herself, traveling the country in drag though it was dangerous to do so.

In New York, friends said DeLarverie became the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement, working as a bouncer at gay bars in the Village. She claimed to have thrown the first punch in the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn.

"She can hold that title well, because she stood up for everything and everyone," said Chris Chapman, 50, who credits DeLarverie with inspiring her own drag act as "Labio, Fabio's Little Brother" decades ago.

"When Stormé worked the door, you always knew you were safe," Chapman added.

Others remembered DeLarverie as feisty and tough, always looking to protect "her babies," said Robert West, 40, who met DeLarverie when she worked the door at the West Village bar Henrietta Hudson

West and several others mentioned the guns — sometimes two or three — that DeLarverie carried.

"We nicknamed her Snub Nose .38," said photographer Tony Notarberardino, who photographed DeLarverie with a black eye four years ago for his book, "Chelsea Hotel Portraits."

He said when he saw her, he asked, "Wow, Stormé, you got into another fight?"

She replied, "Yeah, they came out of nowhere. It was five guys who attacked me, but I got 'em all. They ran."

Notarberardino later found out she had fallen getting off an elevator.

"It was always five guys," he laughed. But he said it was believable: "Between [the 23rd Street restaurant] East of Eighth and the Chelsea Hotel, she was always saving somebody."

DeLarverie lived in the Chelsea Hotel until she fell and broke her arm in 2010. She spent the last years of her life in Cabs Nursing Home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, with two friends, Lisa Cannistraci and Michelle Zalopany, as her legal guardians.

"We had fun with her," Cannistraci, the owner of Henrietta Hudson, said. "People would say, 'She's so lucky to have you.' But I was the lucky one."

DeLarverie's primary caregiver at Cabs, Nina Sebastian, was also at the memorial, and spoke of DeLarverie through tears.

"She has gone with Maya Angelou," Sebastian said, noting the poet's recent death. "Maya Angelou followed her. How beautiful is that?"

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