Drag culture might not exist today – certainly not in its present form - if not for Jose Sarria, who died Monday at age 90.
Harvey Milk is remembered as the first openly gay candidate to be elected [to a major political office] when he took his seat on the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors in 1977. But it’s Sarria who is recognized as the first openly gay person to run for any political office, back in 1961. He received 6,000 votes, alerting activists to the fact that a gay voting bloc might exist.
Four years later, Sarria founded the Imperial Court, with the self-proclaimed title “Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, Jose I, The Widow Norton.” The Imperial Court System is now a worldwide organization dedicated to fundraising and community services – and to having a good time.
A regular performer at San Francisco’s Black Cat Club in the 1950s and ‘60s, Sarria urged patrons to come out of the closet and be proud to be gay. "United we stand,” he advised, “Divided, they catch us one by one."
A public funeral is being organized, at Grace Cathedral, after Labor Day.