Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom will announce that one of the LGBTQ community’s most legendary and iconic trailblazers and heroes, the first Empress of the Americas, José Julio Sarria, will be inducted into the prestigious California Hall of Fame.
A proud Latino and World War II veteran, Sarria became the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in 1961, as a candidate for the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. He placed fifth among a field of 29 candidates.
His run for public office, deemed “courageous” at the time, put gays on the political map and paved the way for more than 600 elected LGBTQ officials who now hold public offices across the country today.
In 1965, Sarria was crowned “Absolute Empress 1 of San Francisco” and established the first Royal Imperial Court in North America. Today there are more than 65 Imperial Court city court chapters in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In 2006, Sarria crowned her heir and successor, long-time Latino/LGBTQ activist and San Diego County/City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez. Already known within the Imperial Court system as Empress Nicole the Great, Sarria gave Ramirez the new title, Queen Mother 1 of the Americas.
Ramirez, on behalf of the International Imperial Court System, officially nominated Sarria to be inducted in the California Hall of Fame 11 years ago.
“José Julio Sarria was the Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ civil rights movement,” said Ramirez in a press release.
“It is very symbolic of Governor Newsom to name José into the California Hall of Fame during this time when drag queens/transgender people are under attack by the Radical Right Wing,” Ramirez added.
Empress 1 José was a proud drag queen himself, and following his distinguished service in the U.S. Army and honorable discharge in 1947, he returned to San Francisco, where he began working at the infamous “Black Cat” bar. Starting first as a hostess and then adding drag performances at the Black Cat, Sarria became known as the “Nightingale of Montgomery Street” and would end each of his campy, live operatic acts with “God Save Us Nelly Queens.”
Ramirez and then San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty together led the campaign that resulted in Sarria being the first openly gay man to have a street named after him by the City of San Francisco. Sarria was also inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Fame, located in the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City, and was also identified as a historic figure on the Rainbow Honor Walk in the Castro District of San Francisco.
In a statement, Ramirez thanked the many politicians who helped push Sarria’s nomination for the California Hall of Fame induction along.
“Though we of the international Imperial Courts led this effort, it definitely took a village to accomplish this honor,” Ramirez stated in a press release. “I want to especially thank California State Senate President Toni Atkins, State Senator Scott Weiner, former San Francisco supervisors Mark Leno and Bevan Dufty, and former State Assembly Whip and now Mayor Todd Gloria of San Diego … also, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund who were major co-sponsors of our campaign.”
Ramirez also thanked Amanda Meeker, the executive director of the California Museum, for working closely with the International Court Council and the Imperial Court of San Francisco, for their help working on the induction.
“This is a historic honor for our beloved José,” Ramirez said.
The International Imperial Courts have had major success in their national letter-writing campaigns and lobbying efforts, which have so far resulted in a Harvey Milk U.S. postage stamp, and having a United States Naval Ship named after Milk. It is the second of four John Lewis class of underway replenishment oilers, the USNS Harvey Milk (TAO-206).