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social sciences

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Sarria, José (1922-2013)  
page: 1  2  

In 1964 the Tavern Guild declared Sarria the Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball. Sarria rejoined that since he was already a queen, he should henceforth be Empress. His inspiration was a colorful character from the city's history: Joshua Norton, self-proclaimed "Emperor of North America and Protector of Mexico." As "Her Royal Majesty, Empress One of San Francisco, Jose I, the Widow Norton," Sarria purchased a cemetery plot adjoining that of the quirky nineteenth-century merchant and launched the International Court System.

The organization now has chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Britain, providing both men and women arenas for creating drag personae amidst elaborate ritual.

Sponsor Message.

Presiding over celebrations and hobnobbing with notables are recurring themes in Sarria's life. His army stint garnered him connections with Berlin's theater crowd. He once lunched with Pancho Villa's widow. With emblematic flair he served Lyndon Johnson a flaming dessert at the 1968 San Antonio World's Fair, an incident that nearly got him gunned down by the Secret Service. His life is a study in transforming the mundane into high drama.

Robert Rosenberg's and Greta Schiller's documentary Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (1984) features Sarria leading a chorus of "God Save Us Nelly Queens" at a Black Cat reunion.

Sarria was honored by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee with its Lifetime Achievement grand marshal title in 2005. On May 25, 2006 the city of San Francisco renamed a section of 16th Street in the Castro district Jose Sarria Court. A plaque outlining his contributions is embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Harvey Milk Memorial Branch of the public library at 1 José Sarria Court.

In 2009 the California state Assembly honored Sarria during an official celebration of LGBT Pride Month.

Sarria died on August 19, 2013 at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had been diagnosed in 2012 with a rare cancer of the adrenal glands. He declined chemotherapy treatment for the disease.

Ruth M. Pettis

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arts >> Overview:  Cabarets and Revues

Historically, cabarets and revues have been much more likely to mention or imply same-sex desire than the "legitimate" theater; and same-sex desire has been less frequently condemned in cabarets and revues than in mainstream plays.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

arts >> Overview:  Documentary Film

The queer community has used documentary film to resurrect historical memory and to permit the marginalized to bear witness, as well as to build an image base that reflects our diversity and counters distorted representations.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Elected Officials

In the United States, glbtq candidates have achieved some significant successes at the ballot box in the last three decades, running for and winning local, state, and national elections.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bars

The centrality of gay and lesbian bars to glbtq culture has been reduced in recent years, but they continue to fulfill important functions; and, in many areas, they remain the most visible manifestation of glbtq presence.

social sciences >> Overview:  Latina/Latino Americans

Latina/o glbtq communities in the U.S. pursue multiple visions, diverse politics, and a variety of struggles for identity and liberation; their efforts have helped shape the meaning of what it means to be queer and Latina and Latino in the U.S. and transnationally.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Radical Faeries

A movement that emerged in the late 1970s, the Radical Faeries identify with the gender variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history.

social sciences >> Overview:  San Francisco

San Francisco has enjoyed a reputation as a "gay mecca" since World War II.


Burlingame, Matthew. "The Emperor is an Author: Conversations with Michael R. Gorman."

Cain, Paul D. Leading the Parade: Conversations with America's Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Canessa Gallery Artists Resource. "History: Black Cat Cafe."

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Gorman, Michael R. The Empress Is a Man: Stories from the Life of José Sarria. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1998.

International Court System--Official Web Site.

Jones, Jeff. "Her Most Imperial Majesty, Empress Jose I, the Widow Norton."

Rosenberg, Robert, and Greta Schiller, dirs. Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community. Videocassette, 88 min. New York: First Run Features, 1984.

Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Sarria, José  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 20, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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