Obit of the Day: The 1st Openly Gay Man to Run for Office in the U.S.
In 1961 when Jose Sarria announced that he would run for a position on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors the Democratic Party tried to keep him off the ballot. The openly gay Mr. Sarria, who was known for his drag performances, then sued and won. But the Democrats weren’t finished.
They flooded the ballot with twelve additional candidates for the board and Sarria finished ninth in the election. (At the time in San Francisco elections for the board were “at-large” with several positions open at once. The Dems wanted to make sure that Sarria was overwhelmed by sheer numbers.)
Jose Sarria found plenty of success outside of the political arena. He was most famous for his performances as “Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, Jose I, The Widow Norton.” His stage persona gave a wink and a nod to Joshua Norton, a San Franciscan who declared himself to be Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico back in 1859.
His involvement in drag shows led Mr. Sarria to create The Imperial Court. The Court was a drag ball that evolved from entertainment to fundraiser. As of 2013, the Imperial Court has expanded to over 70 chapters in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Courts all hold annual balls that raise tens of thousands of dollars for a wide-range of charitable organizations, and each ball, in honor of “Empress Jose” elects an Emperor and Empress.
Jose Sarria, who was sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II, died on August 19, 2013 at the age of 89 or 90. (His year of birth is subject to debate.)
(1983 photo of Jose Sarria dressed as “Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, Jose I, The Widow Norton” is copyright of Rink Foto, a prominent photographer of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, and courtesy of Leslie + Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.)