1922 - 2013

Born in San Francisco on Dec. 12, 1922 of Columbian and Nicaraguan decent, José Julio Sarria developed a fancy for wearing girl’s clothes at a young age. After high school he enlisted in the Army and fought in WWII. Returning to San Francisco in 1947, Sarria hoped to become a teacher, but his dream was dashed after he was arrested on morals charges. Prohibited from teaching, Sarria began waiting tables and performing at the Black Cat Café where his repertoire included one-person operas, such as “Carmen.” Always the life of the party, at closing time, Sarria often asked patrons to join hands and sing “God Save Us Nelly Queens”. Because it was commonplace for police to raid gay bars during this era, Sarria – who was tired of being treated like a second-class citizen – announced his candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961 – making him the first known openly gay candidate to run for public office in North America. Though he came in ninth out of over thirty candidates, the outcome marked the recognition of growing gay political clout over 15 years before Harvey Milk would win the same seat. Sarria helped found the League for Civil Education, an early non-profit gay rights organization dedicated to overturning laws that prohibited serving alcohol to gays. He also helped to establish the Society for Individual Rights (SIR), a gay advocacy and community building group. In 1965, Sarria proclaimed himself “Empress Jose I” – the Widow Norton, the first Empress of San Francisco. This signaled the founding the International Imperial Courts System of the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Imperial Court has grown into an international network of 70 city chapters and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities and major initiatives worldwide. As part of Sarria’s legacy, the Imperial Courts organized and led the successful national campaigns that resulted in the Harvey Milk U.S. postage stamp; the commissioning of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk; and the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn. A crucial player in the development of modern LGBTQ activism, Josѐ Julio Sarria died on August 12, 2013 in Albuquerque, N.M. He was 90 years old. He is still revered for his refusal to be silenced or shamed.

Demography

Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Latinx

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Homophile Movement (1945-1969) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Stonewall Era (1969-1974) World War II (1939-1945)

Field(s) of Contribution

Business

Entertainer

Military

Music

Politics

Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee's Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal Award (2005)

San Francisco Renamed Part of 16th Street Jose Sarria Court (2006)

Albuquerque Pride Granted Sarria its Lifetime Achievement Award (2012)

José Julio Sarria History Makers Award Created by the San Franciso Pride Board (2013)

José Sarria Foundation Created (2016)

San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2018)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

Authorship

Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell