José Julio Sarria House, 3343 21st St, San Francisco, CA 94110, Stati Uniti
Woodlawn Memorial Park, 1000 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014, Stati Uniti
José Julio Sarria also known as The Grand Mere, Absolute Empress I de San Francisco, and the Widow Norton (December 13, 1922 – August 19, 2013) was an American political activist from San Francisco, California, who in 1961 became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States. He is also remembered for performing as a drag queen at the Black Cat Bar and as the founder of the Imperial Court System.
Jose Sarria was born to Julio Sarria and Maria Dolores Maldonado. His parents did not marry and his father showed no interest in his son's life. Maria initially raised José Julio Sarria on her own, but when this became too difficult she placed him with another couple. Both they and his mother indulged his early interest in wearing girl's clothing. Sarria showed an affinity for languages, which led to his first serious romance with another man. Sarria tutored Paul Kolish, an Austrian baron who had fled from the Nazis. Sarria and Kolish fell in love, and their relationship endured until Kolish and his son were killed in a car accident in 1947.
Sarria served in the United States Army during World War II. Following his discharge, he studied to become a teacher and frequented the Black Cat. He met waiter Jimmy Moore, whom Sarria described as "the love of [his] life". Sarria was hired as a cocktail waiter. Following a conviction on a morals charge, Sarria, realizing he could not now become a certified teacher, began performing in drag. He appeared regularly at the Black Cat. An early LGBT activist, Sarria co-founded several homophile organizations, including the League for Civil Education, the Tavern Guild and the Society for Individual Rights. Sarria became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. In 1964 Sarria declared himself "Empress José I, The Widow Norton" and founded the Imperial Court System, which grew to become an international association of charitable organizations.
Following the closure of the Black Cat in 1964, Sarria went to work with restaurateur Pierre Parker. The pair operated French restaurants at World's Fairs. While at the 1964 New York World's Fair, Sarria learned that Jimmy Moore had committed suicide. Sarria worked at several more Fairs before retiring in 1974. After living with Parker in Phoenix, Arizona for several years, Sarria returned to San Francisco. He continued to reign over the Courts for 43 years, before abdicating in 2007. For his lifetime of activism, the city of San Francisco renamed a section of 16th Street in Sarria's honor.
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