José Julio Sarria - December 12, 1922 or 1923 – August 19, 2013 - The Leather Journal

José Julio Sarria - December 12, 1922 or 1923 – August 19, 2013

Empress Jose"It was announced this morning that José Sarria, Founder of the International Court System and legendary pioneer of the Gay rights movement, has died after a prolonged illness, at home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he had relocated. More formal and detailed announcements will surely follow, but I want my friends to know of this tremendous loss. San Francisco and the world have lost an iconic leader and I have lost a mentor and a friend." Donna Sachet, Absolute Empress XXX of San Francisco, said.

Jose's efforts effected the entire GLBT community from drag, Leather to the rank-and-file comunity. There are many medium size cities where the Imperial Court system is the community's organizational head. Everything from the gay church, drag, Leather, social organizations, bars and entertinment and media is actively-involved. In many ways the Court sytstem has been the Facebook in its own way to the LGBT community. In California, cities as small as Tulare in Central California to San Francisco, and most in between have their own Court.


José Sarria is creditable for this. There are not very many GLBT peopole who have effected as high a percentage of the broad community as has José Sarria.

From Wikipedia: José Julio Sarria was an American (December 12, 1922 or 1923 – August 19, 2013) political activist from San Francisco, California. Known for his years of performing at the historic Black Cat Bar in that city from the 1950s and 1960s, Sarria entertained patrons as a drag queen with satirical versions of popular songs and operas while encouraging them to live their lives as openly as possible.

Sarria was born to Julio Sarria and Maria Dolores Maldonado. His parents did not marry and his father showed no interest in his son's life. Maria initially raised José on her own, but when this became too difficult she placed him with another couple. Both they and his mother indulged his early interest in wearing girl's clothing. Sarria showed an affinity for languages, which led to his first serious romance with another man. Sarria tutored Paul Kolish, an Austrian baron who had fled from the Nazis. Sarria and Kolish fell in love, and their relationship endured until Kolish and his son were killed in a car accident in 1947.

Sarria served in the United States Army during World War II. Following his discharge, he studied to become a teacher and frequented the Black Cat. He met waiter Jimmy Moore, whom Sarria described as "the love of [his] life." Sarria was hired as a cocktail waiter. Following a conviction on a morals charge, Sarria, realizing he could not now become a certified teacher, began performing in drag. He appeared regularly at the Black Cat. An early LGBT activist, Sarria co-founded several homophile organizations, including the League for Civil Education, the Tavern Guild and the Society for Individual Rights. Sarria became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. In 1964 Sarria declared himself "Empress José I, The Widow Norton" and founded the Imperial Court System, which grew to become an international association of charitable organizations.

Following the closure of the Black Cat in 1964, Sarria went to work with restaurateur Pierre Parker. The pair operated French restaurants at World's Fairs. While at the 1964 New York World's Fair, Sarria learned that Jimmy Moore had committed suicide. Sarria worked at several more Fairs before retiring in 1974. After living with Parker in Phoenix, Arizona for several years, Sarria returned to San Francisco. He continued to reign over the Courts for 43 years, before abdicating in 2007. For his lifetime of activism, the city of San Francisco renamed a section of 16th Street in Sarria's honor.

California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has issued the following statement about the passing of José Julio Sarria, 90, the first openly gay person in our nation’s history to seek political office.

 “Today we lost a dear friend and fearless community leader who will forever hold a place in our hearts and history books as the first openly gay person in the nation to run for elected office,” said Senator Leno. “When José threw his hat into the ring for San Francisco Supervisor more than 50 years ago, he became one of the first to publically proclaim that there is no reason, constitutional or otherwise, to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people first-class citizenship, respect and dignity under the law. Jose’s visionary and legendary leadership helped build the foundation for our successful, modern-day LGBT civil rights movement. His sly humor and wicked wit disarmed nearly every adversary."

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