Founder of the International Court System, Empress I Jose
he History starts in the 1940's as Jose Julio Sarria entered gay history when he began to cover for his then boyfriend Jimmy, a waiter at the Black Cat Bar on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. In Post WW II, an influx of gay and lesbian discharged veterans was swelling in the city's gay communities. While the Castro was still a primarily Hetero, blue collar neighborhood, the Black Cat had already developed an international reputation as a gay meeting place. One Day, while Jose was serving drinks and the pianist was playing Bizet's "Carmen", Sarria began to sing arias to the opera. Soon, he became a big hit and his reputation was born. In the 1950's Gay men and women were arrested on a number of charges used to keep homosexuals in the closet and hidden. Against this oppression, Jose would change the lyrics of his arias to warn people of the entrapment practices of the police first coining the phrase "There is nothing wrong with being Gay, the crime is getting caught" and "United we stand, Divided they get us one by one". Police pressures, entrapment schemes, and raids continued in the 50's when the gay bars developed an association to spread warnings about the oppression. In 1961, Jose became the very first openly gay candidate to run for public office, seeking the position as city supervisor, a position held 16 years later by an openly gay Harvey Milk. Although Sarria did not win in 1961, he did garner an impressive 5,600 votes and sparked a change in the voting laws allowing for votes by ward, not city wide. This allowed for minority candidates to win election, hence the arrival of Harvey Milk in 1977. In early 1965, Sarria and various gay bar owners put on the first "Drag Ball" of which Sarria was named "Queen of the Ball". At this, "she" exclaimed 0
"Why be a QUEEN when I can be an EMPRESS?". So he proclaimed himself Empress of San Francisco. To further enhance the title, he drew upon the legend of Emperor Norton, the eccentric 19th century San Francisco miner and rice baron. During his lifetime, he dressed finely and proclaimed himself Emperor of the USA and Canada and protector of Mexico. Heir in spirit and not by law, Jose proclaimed himself "The Widow Norton" and began annual pilgrimages to Norton's grave in nearby Colma where he and accompanying drag queens would pay their respects with flowers to Sarria's departed "spouse". This tradition continues to this day. Eventually the "Ball" , now changed to "Coronation", sparked an annual event marking the election of Empress and Emperor. Jose developed bylaws and functions of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, a group that sought, through drag shows and other functions, to raise monies for gay charities. By the early 70's, the Court System established by Sarria has been franchised to first Vancouver BC, and then Portland, and eventually Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Everett, Vancouver and Spokane. Over the next 30 years, individual courts, under the guidance of Widow Norton, "Mama" as she is called, have spread to over 70 areas, some cities, some entire states. While the courts avoid, by ruling, partisan politics, they funnel thousands and thousands of dollars into community charities, as a strong grassroots organization interlinked by monarchs attending the annual coronation balls of other courts and now expanding to the Internet. Jose remains active today, attending her "childrens" coronation and still resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information about International Affiliates, please go to www.impcourt.org.
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| November 2008 | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | www.qviewnorthwest.com