Friday, May 30, 2014

Stormé DeLarverié by Diamondback Annie

Drag king Stormé DeLarverié - often called the “Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement” for playing a catalytic role at the1969 Stonewall Riots - passed away in Brooklyn on May 24, 2014, at age 93. She is widely believed to have been the “Stonewall Lesbian” - the butch woman eyewitnesses say struck back at policemen that clubbed her outside the bar, which rallied the crowd collected there into action.

Born on Christmas Eve, 1920, Stormé (pronounced “Stormy) was raised in New Orleans. Her mother was black and her father white, so at that time, as a mixed-race child in the South, DeLarverié embodied the crossing of boundaries in a way that could make both black and white people around her very uncomfortable. At one point, as she told interviewer Kirk Klocke, bullies hung her by the leg from a fencepost, leaving a scar inches long (see video this page). Young Stormé learned to not give in to bullying, but to fight back hard, when she cracked the heads of the two worst bullies together one day - a lesson that would serve her well, as an adult at Stonewall. 

At a Stonewall Veterans Association event, DeLarverié recalled how she got into an altercation with the police the night of the riots. The raid was getting out of hand, and she saw a friend of hers get struck by a cop - from behind, and for no apparent reason. Right afterwards an officer, who she says probably thought she was a gay guy, said, “Move, faggot” to her. She replied, “I will not! And don’t you dare touch me,” and the officer shoved her - so she punched him in the face, and he fell to the ground, bleeding. 

Storme and Jewel Box Performers

Long before Stonewall, however, Stormé was already one of the foremost drag performers in the United States. She had toured the country, and been photographed by Diane Arbus. Though notorious for having thrown one of the first punches at Stonewall, DeLarverié was a boundary breaker as an artist, as well. She was the first person of color, and also the first(and only) male impersonator, in America’s first racially-integrated drag show, the Jewel Box Revue. Founded in the late 1930s in Miami, the Jewel Box Revue was the most successful show of its kind in the pre-Stonewall era, playing major theaters like the Apollo, and later serving as inspiration for “La Cage Aux Folles.” Stormé was also a regular performer at Club 82, an underground drag bar frequented by celebrity guests like Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, and Milton Berle. 

Storme by Diane Arbus

DeLarverié got her start as an entertainer when she joined the Ringling Brothers’ Circus as a teen show pony rider, but after being injured in a fall, she began performing as “Stormy Dale “ - a traditionally feminine-looking big band jazz vocalist. The glamorous gowned vamp Stormy became dashing drag king Stormé, when DeLarverié became the emcee and musical director of the Jewel Box Revue in 1955 - a position she held till 1969.

The Jewel Box’s tagline became “Twenty-five Men and a Girl” when Stormé joined the cast. Audience members didn’t often guess, though, that the single biological woman in the show was the handsome guy in the tux. DeLarverie was definitely a brilliant drag artist, and wore beautifully tailored clothing, as her page in the Jewel Box program demonstrates. 

 Jewel Box Program

However, the audience’s surprise when she revealed herself toward the end of the Jewel Box show also demonstrates the power assumptions have over the perception of gender. This seems likely since Stormé maintained, in the documentary short The Lady of the Jewel Box, that her moves and singing voice always stayed the same, whether she was performing in the guise of a man, or of a woman. 

Storme at The Chelsea Hotel
DeLarverié was a longtime resident of the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and a King of the Imperial Court of New York. As a vice president of the Stonewall Veterans Association, she was also a familiar figure at NYC Pride parades every year. A gentleman to the end, DeLarverié carried out a lifelong commitment to protect the LGBT youth she called her “children.” Well into her 80s, she patrolled Village streets, packing a gun (which she had a license for), and serving as a bouncer at lesbian bars like Henrietta Hudson. Stormé made it her constant mission to fight the “ugliness” - her word for the harassment and prejudice LGBT individuals constantly face. In this 2009 video commemorating Stonewall’s 40th anniversary, she cautions those who would attempt such ugliness around her: “Just don’t try it. You’re apt to wind up with your ass on the floor.” 

See why DeLarverié remained a convincing bad-ass at the age of 90, and listen to her still-beautiful singing voice, in this lovely interview by Columbia University journalist Kirk Klocke:

Diamondback Annie's balls-out stageshows are a crowd-pumping combination of drag; striptease and coliseum rock. A member of the first known neo-burlesque troupe, Los Angeles’ Velvet Hammer, Diamondback has headlined events worldwide since winning Best Debut at the 2005 Burlesque Hall of Fame competition. Besides performing live, she is a popular video vixen, appearing in videos for artists like Pharrell Williams; RuPaul; Rod Stewart; and Maroon 5.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Gay Revolutionary War Hero

18th Century portrait of Von Steuben in his Revolutionary War Uniform

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolph Gerhard Augustin von Steuben was born in the fortress town of Magdeburg in Germany.  Von Steuben’s grandfather, a country parson, counterfeited the title by claiming descent from an obscure branch of the ancient noble house of Steuben. The deception furthered the careers of many generation of his family.

In 1744, at the age of only 14, young von Steuben accompanied his father on King Fredrick’s invasion of the Austrian region of Bohemia. By 16, von Steuben was enlisted as a lance-corporal and had witnessed several of his father’s military campaigns. During peacetime, he was schooled in practical sciences and mathematics and prepared for the next inevitable war.

 King Frederick the Great of Prussia

Gradually advancing up the ranks, by 1762 Brigade Major von Steuben was serving as the staff captain and aide-de-camp to Frederick the Great. After many years of service and having reached the rank of Captain, von Steuben's career was ruined by a General named Anhalt.  Von Steuben was soon threatened with prosecution for his homosexuality, and was forced to leave Germany. (He apparently wasn’t very good at passing for straight, while hanging out with so many handsome young soldiers.)

In 1777, an acquaintance of Steuben's sent a letter to his former employer, the Prince of Hechingen:
“It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young men which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.”

18th century Prussian Soldiers

Von Steuben went to Paris seeking work in 1777. At that time, the French were discretely supplying military assistance to the Americans. Word had gotten back to the French that the ill trained troops were squandering the supplies. In order to maintain the appearance of neutrality, they needed an outsider to step in. The French recognized that the well trained von Steuben was the right man for the job so they quickly arranged for him to meet Benjamin Franklin, the American minister to France.   Franklin got word of von Steuben to George Washington, who agreed that his troops could greatly benefit from a heavy dose of Prussian discipline and training.

A 19th century etching of von Steuben

Von Steuben joined Washington's army at Valley Forge in February 1778. By some accounts, he arrived in a grand sleigh, festooned with jingling bells and pulled by large black draft horses.  Sitting in his silk covered lap was his beloved greyhound, Azor.  Sitting behind him were Louis de Pontiere, his aid-de-camp, and Pierre Etienne du Ponceau, his 17-year-old lover. Following the sleigh was his retinue of servants, as well as his personal French chef.

 Despite any misgivings about Von Steuben and his handsome entourage,  Washington and the others were impressed at how effectively he molded the rag-tag group of volunteers into a serious army, trained in Prussian military tactics.  

In full military dress uniform, von Steuben trained soldiers that were often lacking proper clothing of any kind (for a time, Von Steuben volunteered without pay.)

Von Steuben and the troops.

 His eccentric manner of training often involved yelling and swearing at the troupes in French and German, and then leaving his aide to translate the cursing.

George Washington

According to Griswold's “Republican Court,” von Steuben created a select troops of handsome men called “Captain Harsin's New York Grenadiers.” They were described as "the tallest and finest-looking young men of the city, dressed in blue coats with red facings and gold lace broideries, cocked hats with white feathers, and white waistcoats and breeches, and black spatterdashes, buttoned close from the shoe to the knee." They were one of several troops that stood guard at Washington's Inauguration in 1789.

 The Inauguration of President Washington 1789. Harsin's Grenadiers

After the war, Von Steuben became an American citizen and resigned from service. After almost going bankrupt waiting for his commission, he was finally awarded a substantial pension of $2,500 a year for life (thanks to the intervention of Washington and Franklin.) 

Once settled on his estate, Von Steuben adopted several handsome young soldiers.  At a time when homosexuality was a criminal offense, the only way gay men could safely create a legal bond was through adoption. One of his sons was William North, who later became a well-known U.S. Senator and the other was Benjamin Walker.  

Von Steuben eventually hired John Mulligan as his personal secretary, but Walker was not only one of Von Steuben’s employees but also the last great love of his life. Mulligan stayed through all the hardships, while all of the others eventually left. Despite gossip about what went on at Von Steuben’s estate, there was never any investigation since von Steuben’s was considered a war hero and was well connected socially. 

 The Zabriskie estate was given to von Steuben, but it was sold to settle his debts.

In 1783, the State of New Jersey presented him with the use of an estate which had been confiscated from Loyalist Jan Zabriskie. The estate included a gristmill and about 40 acres of land and would have provided a nice income. 5 years later, they deeded Baron von Steuben the full title to the estate. In a letter to William North, von Steuben wrote: "My Jersey estate is advertised but not yet sold, from this Walker shall immediately pay to you the money, you so generously lend me and all my debts in New-York will be payed. I support my present poverty with more heroism than I Expected. All Clubs and parties are renounced, I seldom leave the House."

Von Steuben passed away in 1794, with John Mulligan at his side. Unfortunately, Von Steuben was not very good at handling his money, and even with his generous yearly pension, he was not a wealthy man when he passed away. Baron von Steuben, the man who's training won the American Revolutionary War, was buried in simple tomb near his farm in Starr Hill, New York.  

 Von Steuben's tomb in Starr Hill

 After many years of officially serving as Von Steuben’s “secretary” and as his faithful partner, John Mulligan inherited Von Steuben’s vast library, collection of maps and $2,500 in cash (a handsome sum in those days.)

Von Steuben wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual, which was used in the United States Army until the War of 1812. 

 Von Steuben Memorial

 One side of the General Von Steuben Memorial at Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Washington D.C. is extremely homo-erotic; I think von Steuben would have loved it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remembering our Boys on Memorial Days


Key Dates in U. S. Policy on Gay Men and Women in Military Service

March 11, 1778 – Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin becomes the first documented service member to be dismissed from the U.S. military for homosexuality. Under an order from General George Washington which states "abhorrence and detestation of such infamous crimes," Lt. Enslin is drummed out of the Continental Army after being found guilty of sodomy.
  March 1, 1917 – The Articles of War of 1916 are implemented. A revision of the Articles of War of 1806, the new regulations detail statutes governing U.S. military discipline and justice. Under the category Miscellaneous Crimes and Offences, Article 93 states that any person subject to military law who commits "assault with intent to commit sodomy" shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

1919 – Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requests an investigation into "vice and depravity" in the sea services. A sting operation is launched in which undercover operatives attempt to seduce sailors suspected of being homosexual. At least 17 sailors are jailed and court-martialed before public outcry prompts the Senate to condemn the operation.

June 4, 1920 – Congress approves modified Articles of War. Article 93 is changed to make the act of sodomy a crime in itself, separate from the offense of assault with intent to commit sodomy.

1921 –The U.S. Army issues standards in which "stigmata of degeneration" such as feminine characteristics and "sexual perversion" can result in a male being declared unfit for service.

1941 – The U. S. Selective Service System includes "homosexual proclivities" as a disqualifying condition for inclusion in the military draft.

1942 - Military psychiatrists warn that "psychopathic personality disorders" make homosexual individuals unfit to fight. The military issues the first formal regulations to list homosexuality as an excludable characteristic. Those in the military identified as homosexuals can be discharged and denied veterans benefits.

January 20, 1950 – Army Regulation 600-443 is published, identifying three categories of homosexuals. Those deemed to be aggressive are placed in Class I and are subjected to general court-martial. Homosexuals considered active but non-aggressive are placed in Class II and can avoid a court-martial by accepting a dishonorable discharge – or resigning, if they are officers. Personnel professing or exhibiting homosexual tendencies without committing a violation of the sodomy statute are designated "Class III," and can be removed from service under general or honorable discharge.

May 31, 1951 – The Uniform Code of Military Conduct is adopted. Article 125 forbids sodomy among all military personnel, defining it as "any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offence." The 1951 Manual for Courts-Martial provides an even more explicit description of acts considered sodomy under military law.

April 27, 1953 – Expressing national security and counterespionage concerns, President Dwight D Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10450 which prohibits Federal employees from being members of a group or organization considered subversive. The order lists "sexual perversion" as a security risk constituting grounds for termination or denial of employment.

1957 – Captain S. H. Crittenden chairs a U. S. Navy Board of Inquiry that issues a report concluding there is "no sound basis for the belief that homosexuals posed a security risk."

November, 1972 - Army Regulation 635-200 establishes policy for discharging enlisted personnel found to be unfit or unsuitable for duty. Homosexual acts are specifically designated as grounds for dismissal. Enforcement, however, is often left to the discretion of commanders.

July 16, 1976 – The U. S. District Court in Washington D.C., upholds the decision of the U. S. Air Force to discharge Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich after he admits to being homosexual. Matlovich had challenged the military’s anti-gay policy on constitutional grounds. Matlovich appeals the District Court’s ruling, but would eventually accept an honorable discharge and cash settlement to drop the case against the Air Force.

May, 1980 – A federal district court orders the U. S. Army to reinstate Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, ruling that her discharge four years earlier, on grounds of homosexuality, violated her First Amendment rights. The Army dismisses the order, leading Ben-Shalom to file a motion of contempt. After initial victories, her battle to be reinstated ends in 1990 when the Supreme Court refuses to hear her case, upholding an earlier decision by federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the Army.

January 16, 1981 – The Department of Defense issues Directive 1332.14, stating that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service" and that any service member who has "engaged in, has attempted to engage in, or has solicited another to engage in a homosexual act" will face mandatory discharge. The directive will be reissued with updates in 1982, 1993 and 2008.

December, 1988 – In a report commissioned by the Department of Defense, the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center supports the conclusions of the 1957 Crittenden Report that homosexuals pose no significant security risk. Military leaders challenge the veracity of the research used in the analysis.

1992 – During his presidential campaign, Governor Bill Clinton promises that, if elected, he would allow military service by all who otherwise qualify to serve – regardless of sexual orientation.

June 12, 1992 – The Government Accounting Office (GAO) releases a report estimating that the cost associated for replacing service men and women discharged for homosexuality is $28,266 for each enlisted member and $120,772 for each officer. The GAO notes that the estimates do not include investigation, out-processing and court costs.

November 30, 1993 – After failing to overcome opposition to allowing gays to serve openly in the military, President Clinton signs into law the current policy known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" into law. Although often referred to as a compromise, the policy defined homosexuality as "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." More than 13,000 members of the armed services have been discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

2007 – Senator Barack Obama, campaigning for the presidency, pledges that if elected he will repeal the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy within 100 days of taking office and allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military.

January 27, 2010 – President Obama announces during his State of the Union address that "this year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."

March 25, 2010 – The Pentagon announces modified guidelines for the enforcement of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" – providing greater protection from hearsay evidence and accusations based on hidden agendas. Parties providing information about alleged gay service personnel must do so under oath and will be subject to "special scrutiny" to determine their motives.

September 9, 2010 – U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips rules that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unconstitutional because it violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of homosexuals.

October 12, 2010 – Judge Phillips issues an injunction to stop enforcement of the ban on gays serving openly. The Obama adminstration requests Judge Phillips to stay her ruling, saying it "threatens to disrupt ongoing military operations" during wartime.

November 30, 2010 – The Department of Defense releases a report concluding that the repeal of the ban on gays in the armed forces would have a minimal negative impact on the military's effectiveness.

December 15, 2010 – The House of Representatives votes to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by passing bill H.R. 2965.

December 18, 2010 – The Senate votes to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by passing bill S. 4023.

December 22, 2010 – President Barack Obama signs the repeal into law. The formal repeal will not begin until 60 days after the President, Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify in writing that the military is sufficiently prepared for the change.

June 26, 2013 – U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which restricted federal employees in same sex marriages — including military families —  from receiving federal benefits. 

This timeline is from the US Naval Institute:

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Friday, May 16, 2014


These photos represent just a small fragment of our gay history; unfortunately so much of it has purposely been destroyed. Since most of the men in these photos are unknown, it's pretty much impossible to tell it they were a gay couple or just "good friends." Most photographs of gay couples were eventually destroyed by horrified family members. For every photo that I may have mistakenly identified as gay, thousands more were burned or torn into pieces to keep a family secret.

Jeffrey Gent

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Shadows of Love

These photos represent just a small fragment of our gay history; unfortunately so much of it has purposely been destroyed. Since most of the men in these photos are unknown, it's pretty much impossible to tell it they were a gay couple or just "good friends." Most photographs of gay couples were eventually destroyed by horrified family members. For every photo that I may have mistakenly identified as gay, thousands more were burned or torn into pieces to keep a family secret.

Jeffrey Gent