The lesbians of “Stonewall”

In the film, Joanne delivers these lines while handcuffed, stealthily escaping outside the cop car doors but being pushed back in every time. She finally screams for help from the crowd, inciting the mob of gays, trans women and lesbians to use their size to take on the small amount of police that threatened them.

“I actually saw a photo of her which, you know, there’s very little footage, but there is an image of a lesbian with kind of a leather vest whose in the middle of chaos,” Joanne said. “She’s much bigger than I am. She was, like, taller and broader and stronger, but there isn’t any information about her. That’s the sad reality.”

Joanne as Sam in the film, inciting the riotstonewall-lesbian

Although we don’t know the name of this woman, many cite well-known mixed race drag king and lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie as “the Stonewall lesbian.” Stormé, who passed away in 2014, said she engaged in an altercation with a cop the night of the riots, getting clubbed and receiving 14 stitches in her chin. But Joanne said she does not want to be confused for playing Stormé in Stonewall.

“She was black. She was a drag king; she was an amazing civil rights activist, an LGBT activist. She was a performer, and a brilliant human being,” Joanne said. “Is Stormé in the movie? No Stormé was not. And if Storme were in the movie, I would not have played her.”

Stormé DeLarverie

The only woman’s name who was found in police records from that night was “Marilyn Fowler,” who was also assumed to be the woman thrown into the police car. But as Faderman writes in The Gay Revolution:

Jim Fouratt, who witnessed the riot and knew Marilyn Fowler, claims, however, that she was a slight woman and definitely not the “two-hundred-pound butch” who triggered the riot. In recent years, an urban legend has spread that African American butch lesbian Stormé DeLarverie…was the woman in the police car. She’s been dubbed the “Rosa Parks of the gay revolution.” … But as [Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution authorDavid Carter points out, DeLarverie was well known in the community and would have been recognized immediately; the woman who triggered the riot was unknown to those eye-witnesses who Carter interviewed. Also, Carter says, DeLarverie’s age, height, ethnicity, and physique do not match eyewitness descriptions of the lesbian who set off the riot.”

This isn’t to say that Stormé or Marilyn did not play a role in the riots. Instead, it’s all that more frustrating they wouldn’t be included in the film.

The Stonewall lesbian

In the film, Sam is a Hollywood version of the unnamed heavyset butch who asked for the crowd’s help, and Joanne said she was interested in auditioning for the film without knowing much about the role.

“I am an out lesbian actor and that’s a very difficult thing to be in the culture that we live in,” Joanne said. “So when I heard that there was a movie that included the Stonewall riots that was being made, I knew about Stonewall—I didn’t know about all the players, but I knew about it—I wanted to be in it. I hadn’t even read a script; I didn’t know what it was about—I just wanted to be in it and that’s what I brought to my audition room without having read a script.”

Joanne said her experience on set was transformative, and that it felt like there were many women and out LGBT people on set.

“It was an emotional experience for all of us who were LGBT, because it’s very rare that we get to do something with so many queer people, so it kind of transcended everything, “Joanne said. “We told a lot of stories, we cried a lot, we talked political, we talked gender—we talked a lot of stuff. And it was a pretty fascinating experience that no one will get to know about, really, except for those that are talking about it, which some of us do. It was very special and, unfortunately, the protest started before the film was released and it was based on a two minute trailer and that’s tough, right, because there’s already a pre-conceived notion before it’s released and a lot of anger and pent-up ideas and emotion.”

Joanne feels Roland, as the director, is misunderstood; that he did not have the typical Hollywood support his films receive with him on Stonewall because producers and studios weren’t interested in backing the gay-themed movie.

“Do I have many millions to make an indie film? No. If I did, I’d make a film with lesbians in it,” Joanne said. “If I were writing a movie, that would be the movie I’d wanna make. That’s what I would do. But that’s not this movie that Roland wanted to make. And I think people also mix up the fact that it’s a dramatic film and it’s fictional, based in a historical time in the ‘60s, when Stonewall was happening. I think it’s very confusing and complex because you have that as well as today’s culture who may not know what Stonewall was about and who was there and conflicting accounts of it. So it’s not that simple, and I feel like it’s—are people represented entirely? No. Are there a lot of women? No. Was I happy to be in this movie? Yes. Did I get to play a lesbian? Yes. Was it someone that I think was amazing? Yes. Did she have a lot of airtime? No, but let’s make more, right? Because we go after queer artists, we do ourselves a disservice. I think our energy—and I see it over and over again—is better spent, if we’re gonna get mad, let’s go after the people with the biggest amount of power who actually hate us, who don’t want to see us represented. That’s what I really believe.”