Task Force mourns the loss of Jose Julio Sarria

sarriaThe National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mourns the loss of LGBT rights pioneer Jose Julio Sarria. He was 91, a World War II veteran and the first openly LGBT candidate to run for public office in North America. Sarria was a candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961.

In 1965, Sarria declared himself “Empress Jose I, The Widow Norton” after winning a drag queen competition at the Tavern Guild’s “Beaux Arts Ball.” With that proclamation, the first Court Chapter of the International Court System was established.

Russell Roybal, First Imperial Grandson to Empress I Jose, The Widow Norton and Deputy Executive Director of External Relations of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said: “Words cannot express what a tremendous loss I feel today on the passing of Jose Sarria. He is an icon of the LGBT community, a hero, a mentor and a friend. Jose brought laughter, camp and fun to all of our lives and to the struggle not just for gay and lesbian liberation, but for all people. His legacy as a gay Latino leader, activist and drag queen will live on for all of us who share his commitment to the communities from which we come.”

The International Court System of the United States, Canada and Mexico now has associated chapters in over 68 cities across the three nations. In 1961 Sarria helped to form the League for Civil Education, one of the first gay rights organizations in the country and the first gay nonprofit registered in California.

Also, in 1961 when Sarria declared himself a candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he finished in ninth place from a field of over thirty candidates. In 1963 he co-founded the Society for Individual Rights (SIR).

“Today we lost a pioneer, trailblazer and hero in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “I am deeply saddened on the passing of civil rights legend Jose Sarria. The Task Force honored Jose Sarria at the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in 2005 for his over 50 years of leadership and activism on behalf of LGBT people and our families. He was an original that will be sorely missed.”