April 12, 2005
“God Save Us Nelly Queens…”
Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal Announced
The SFLGBT Pride Celebration Committee is proud to announce the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal Award Winner: José Julio Sarria. For over half a century, Sarria has nurtured, protected, and guided the San Francisco and North America gay communities through McCarthyism, the backlash against gay rights, and the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Sarria’s activism began in 1949 when the popularity of his act at the Black Cat bar on Montgomery Street, where he performed “God Save Us Nelly Queens,” focused attention among gays in San Francisco. The community notice led to an attempt by police to close down the bar on grounds it attracted gay people. The owners and clients sued the San Francisco Police Department, and, after a lengthy legal process, the California Supreme Court ruled closure of a bar illegal because of the clients it attracts.
In 1961, Sarria again redefine the societal norm by filing as the first openly gay candidate in the world to run for public office. Although he did not win, his quiet word-of-mouth campaign for San Francisco city supervisor shocked both the gay and straight communities by collecting a whopping 5,600 votes. Sarria’s campaign introduced San Francisco to the considerable political influence the gay voting bloc could wield. This realization led the way to other important firsts, most notably, Harvey Milk’s win in 1978 to become the world’s first openly gay official.
Starting in the early-1960’s, on-going police pressures resulted in the closure of 12 of the 30 gay and lesbian establishments located in San Francisco. Sarria, united with various bar owners, to from the Tavern Guild. Once united, the Guild put on San Francisco’s first large, public drag ball, with Sarria at the head. Over 500 lesbians and gay men bravely crossed police lines, floodlights, and flashing lights of police photographers to attend the gala, where Sarria was named “Queen of the Ball.” That Sarria quickly proclaimed himself, Empress of San Francisco should be of no surprise. Following in the legend of the Emperor Norton, the 19th century San Francisco rice baron, Sarria named himself, “The Widow Norton,” and began annual pilgrimages to Norton’s grave in nearby Colma, CA. On these visits, The Widow Norton, was accompanied by a host of drag queens who all paid respect to Sarria’s departed “husband.” The election of Empress, and visit to Emperor Norton’s grave became an annual event in San Francisco, which, over the next 30 years, spread to include more than 60 “children courts” across the United States and Canada.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration. The event theme is, “Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand Proud,” and will be held the June 25/26 weekend. For more information about San Francisco LGBT Pride please visit our website at: www.sfpride.org.
For further information please contact Jonathan Fishleder at: (415) 864-0831.