Lee Brewster was born in Honacker, Virginia. His youth had been spent in West Virginia's coal mining region. He worked in fingerprinting for the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the early 1960s until he - the pronoun Brewster preferred - was fired when it was suspected that he was gay.
Upon moving to Manhattan, Brewster became an active member of the New York Mattachine Society, Inc. and helped organize popular drag balls as fund raisers for the organization. He noted, however, that the conservative membership of that organization was loathe to use the funds he'd collected for the welfare of drag queens and transvestites. He then founded Queens. From 1969 to 1973, he staged his own drag balls, and the events were so successful that the real Carol Channing and Shirley MacLaine attended the final ball.
America's first gay weekly newspaper, GAY, chronicled the founding of Queens (later to be known as the Queens Liberation Front). The purpose of the organization, according to the paper, was "to legalize the right to dress in the attire of the opposite sex in public without fear of arrest or police harassment." Brewster preferred to be called "Mr." rather than adopting a feminized name. He first began providing services to the Transvestite/Drag Community in 1969. He announced the intended formation of his organization at his first drag ball during February of that year, choosing Halloween, 1969, as its formal date of founding.
Brewster also owned the world-famous drag boutique Lee's Mardi Gras Boutique, and he published Drag Magazine in the 1970s and 1980s. Lee's Mardi Gras was the epicenter of what he called "the crossdressing lifestyle." Located at 400 West 14th Street, his customers entered the boutique on the third floor. Brewster believed that having a street-level entry way would have failed to protect the privacy of his clients, many of whom were conservative businessmen.
Providing fashionable clothing was only part of what Lee Brewster provided his customers. His bookstore contained several thousand titles, possibly the most comprehensive inventory on transvestite lifestyles in the world.
Under our civil rights component, the Queens Liberation Front became the first transvestite organization to parade and protest in New York City. They legalized the wearing of "drag" in New York City bars and cabarets. No longer could a club be closed, or patrons arrested just because there was a crossdresser present. In the early 1970s, he financed a successful legal challenge to overturn a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs ordinance that allowed police to remove people from public places for being gay.
On June 24, 1973, during the Christopher Street Liberation Day festivities, a long-brewing clash between gay men and, in particular, lesbian feminists, on the one hand, and transwomen and drag queens, on the other hand, boiled over, as Radicalesbian members continued their campaign to exclude the latter groups from Liberation Day events.
Syliva Rivera took the stage to denounce the Radicalesbians, prompting Jean O'Leary to respond by denouncing drag as misogynistic, at which point Brewster had had enough. "I cannot sit and let my people be insulted," he announced. "They've accused me of reminding you too many times that today you're celebrating... the result of what the drag queens did at the Stonewall... Gay Liberation? Screw you!" With that, the queen threw his crown into the crowd and stormed off.
He was a gentle, soft-spoken and kindly man who worked indefatigably to better conditions for crossdressers. Costume designer for The Birdcage, he was also an able entrepreneur whose Greenwich Village clothing boutique, Lee's Mardi Gras, catered for over 30 years to those men throughout the world, whether straight or gay, who enjoyed dressing as women. Lee died after a battle with cancer; he was fifty-seven. New York Times obituary described him as the "Style Guru For World's Cross-Dressers".