A Crown Filled With Jewels
One of my favorite quotations from José Sarria, Empress I, The Widow Norton is, “New York is the jewel in my crown! Don’t believe me? Just ask them!” Of course, Mama Jose managed to nail New York for being New York: those of us who live here feel like we’re the Center of the Universe. We pay the premium to live here, so why not? But in truth, you can’t have a jewel in the crown without first having a crown, and that’s the subject of today’s post: The International Imperial Court System.
At Night of a Thousand Gowns (March 11, 2017 dearies!), you’ll be in awe and amazed when the curtains part and we present our Out of Town Guests. It’s a fashion show to rival them all, to be sure, but who are these Emperors and Empresses? Don’t we already have one of each? Aren’t they standing at the end of the runway giving out reign pins?
The truth is, there are reigning monarchs from 70ish chapters of the International Court System at any given time, and ICNY is only one of the many. José and Joshua (Norton, Emperor of San Francisco) had 140 “children” every year! How she lived to 90 (or 91, or 92) is a mystery at that rate!
José Sarria (who is the subject of another post), founded the Imperial Council of San Francisco in 1965 after he’d won Queen of the Tavern Guild, essentially “Queen of the (Gay) Bars.” He turned his celebrity and power to good and worked with the people around him to begin raising money for political causes important to LGBTQ people, and travelling to introduce the idea to others. Today, California alone has 14 official chapters. Most major cities have a chapter: Honolulu, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington DC. Of course, those are places where you’d expect to find them: gay culture being what it is.
Want to know where it’s safest to be gay in a Bright Red State? Look for a chapter of the ICS! You’ll find them: Lexington, Kentucky. Salt Lake City, Utah. Ogden, UT. Boise, ID. Anchorage, Alaska, Missoula, Montana. There are seven courts in Texas! Thelma and Louise may not have wanted to go there, but if they’d made it to San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston or Waco (yes, Waco!), they’d have found friendly progressives!
Don’t forget our cousins to the North — Canada has 11 Chapters stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and Mexico has one in Tijuana! We are truly international in scope!
Imperial Courts are their own, independent 501(c)(3) corporations that raise money and spirits for charities in their own community. There are also annual projects we all work on together, such as getting the Harvey Milk Stamp and Naval Vessel approved, raising funds for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, focusing attention on mental health, or senior issues, or hunger. Those ideas are often solidified at the International Court Council, led by the Queen Mother of the Americas, Nicole the Great, but often start at one of the local courts and work their way up and then out.
So whenever you’re at the next Night of a Thousand Gowns and you see the Out of Town Courts walking the runway, take note: these Emperors and Empresses, lords, ladies, princesses and counts are stars in their own cities and doing the amazing grassroots work of which we can all do more. And hell, go introduce yourself, because chances are “Do you know so and so” will be met with an “Of course I do!”
Want to meet some of them? Get your ticket now to the 31st Annual Night of a Thousand Gowns on March 11, 2017!