LGBT+ History: Stormé DeLarverie, Mark Ashton, James Baldwin
Stormé DeLarverie (she/her)
‘Somebody has to care.’ – Stormé DeLarverie
28th June, 1969, a day that sparked change and built a legacy, known to most as the Stonewall Riots. Whilst unconfirmed, DeLarverie is said to have thrown the first punch at Stonewall in 1969. A fact which is undisputed is the incredible impact and influence DeLarverie had on the gay rights movement.
Growing up as mixed raced and having faced bullying and harassment, DeLarverie was no stranger to injustice.Through a varied range of careers, including singer, drag king and bouncer, DeLarverie fought for a culture where the LGBT+ community weren’t just visible, but nurtured. Before Stonewall, DeLarverie performed as a Drag King at the Jewel Box Revue, North America’s first racially integrated drag revue from 1955-69. This was extremely progressive during the height of racial segregation in America.
The power to care passionately
Following Stonewall, DeLarverie went onto become a bouncer for many lesbian bars, a member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, holding the roles of Chief of Security, Ambassador and Vice President over her time. DeLarverie also organised and performed at benefits for women and children who had faced adversity.
DeLarverie’s revolutionary spirit is undeniable, the events of the last 12 months have encouraged many of us to fight for societal change, but we cannot let that momentum die out. Let’s be inspired by DeLaverie to stand up against injustices wherever and whenever we see them.
Learn more about the Stonewall Veterans Association here
Watch A Stormé Life on YouTube
Stonewall Forever: A Documentary on the Past, Present and Future of Pride, also on Youtube
Mark Ashton (he/him)
Mark Ashton, campaigner and activist, inspired a great deal of change in his 26 years as well as the huge legacy that followed. Coming from Northern Ireland, working as a barmaid in drag at the Conservative Club, Ashton went on to become a passionate leader for gay rights.
Ashton’s most well-known role, was as co-founder and leader for the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) in 1984-5. This might seem to be an unexpected campaign, but the bringing together of two communities facing adversity, a lack of recognition and rights turned out to be incredibly impactful. The 2014 movie Pride retold this story, prevailing the difficulty yet eventual strength in this joint community. Ashton’s LGSM group inspired others around the country and by the end of the miner’s strike from 1984-5, the London group alone had raised around £69,000 in today’s money.
In January 1987, Ashton passed away of HIV/AIDS related pneumonia, at the age of 26. The Mark Ashton Trust was launched in his honour to raise money for those living with HIV. Today, you can donate to the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund which raises money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.
Ashton’s legacy reminds us all of the importance of community – our own, our interactions with others and the power that can be fostered between them.
Donate to the Mark Ashton Red Ribbon Fund here
Learn more about the Terrance Higgins Trust here
Pride is available to stream on Amazon Prime
James Baldwin (he/him)
Whilst we categorise James Baldwin mainly as a prolific writer and activist, no label can capture the force Baldwin brought and left us all. With a legacy of incredible literary pieces, Baldwin pioneered the exploration of the taboos of American society from the 1950-80’s, a changing yet ever dangerous time for anyone from a marginalised group to live, let alone publicise their views.
Baldwin’s explorations of sexuality, race and class through texts like Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell it on The Mountain, with some autobiographical footing, were an expansive addition to literature at the time. Moreso, Baldwin was pushing boundaries of intersectionality through gay narratives in racial pieces, receiving strong criticism from Black communities. Nonetheless, Baldiwn told his truth, growing a space for so many others to do the same.
Looking back to move forward
LGBT+ History Month celebrates and remembers the past. But beyond that, it should remind us of how we’re built upon that history, and how we create it every day, a sentiment Baldwin reminds us of: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”
Check out the James Baldwin Project here
Oprah.com runs down essential reading by James Baldwin here
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