God Save Us Nelly Queens! And God bless José Sarria. José Sarria is an American drag entertainer, war veteran, restauranteur, founder of the Imperial Court System, and one of the first LGBT activists in San Francisco. Born to Latino immigrants, José served in occupied Germany during WWII. After the war, he returned to San Francisco and began performing in drag at the Black Cat Café. Known as “The Nightingale of Montgomery Street,” he was a popular attraction for the Beats and Bohemian artists of 1950’s North Beach. José ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961, becoming the first openly gay candidate to run for office in United States History. He garnered 6,000 votes in the city-wide race, finishing 9th out of 34 candidates and firmly establishing that a gay voting block could wield real power in city politics. José founded the Imperial Court System of San Francisco in 1965, becoming its very first empress: Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, Jose I, The Widow Norton. In 2006, a Castro District street was renamed “José Sarria Court” in his honor. He currently resides in Palm Springs, CA.
The Queer Ancestors Project
The Queer Ancestors Project is devoted to forging sturdy relationships between LGBTQI people and our ancestors. Using history as a linchpin, we build community by providing Queer and Trans artists, age 18 to 26, free interdisciplinary workshops in printmaking, writing, and Queer history. Public exhibitions and readings of their work provide a window on the past through which the larger community can glimpse our collective future.
The LGBTQI community has a limited visual record, or none at all, of significant Queer events before the 1970s, particularly in the histories of Queers of color and transgender people. This lack of imagery makes it harder for LGBTQI people to connect with, learn from, and be inspired by our history. Just as photographs from your early life help to anchor personal memories, a visual record – even an imagined one – can bring historical events to life, creating the kind of indelible connection that enables us to engage deeply with our ancestors.