Dufty proposes street renamed
after Jose Saria
One block of 16th Street between
Pond and Prospect
Castro representative Bevan Dufty. File photo.
January 25, 2006
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to win elective office,
but not the first to try, openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty recalled
Jose Saria, a bar owner who nightly led closeted San Franciscans
in closing hour high-pitched "God Save Us Nellie Queens,"
did it first...and in scarier times.
"Jose was many individuals," Dufty reflected.
Dufty represents the District 8 Castro neighborhood where the
LGBT world intersects.
"In 1961 he was the first openly gay person ever to run
for elective office.
"I don't think it's possible to imagine how courageous that
act was in that time when you could be fired, when you lose your
housing, where you could practically be put in jail for simply
being known as being gay - where you were subject to blackmail
at every turn.
"And yet in a time where there were no community centers,
there were no community newspapers, no legal advocacy organizations
in the late 50s and 60s.
"Jose was an individual who was all three - managing a gay
bar, the Black Cat which had entertainment and other activities
added. Jose was someone who would help people who had been arrested
for being a homosexual, who would help people who had lost their
home and helped people to know how to create a as safe a life
that was possible in which the closet was really the only alternative
for most people.
"But he was an individual of vision and courage, and he
know that times would change and in 1961 he ran and received 5,600
votes in a time when he literally would only ask people who weren't
gay to sign his nomination papers - because he knew what the consequences
could be for someone else.
"Jose was a World War II veteran, but in 1965 he created
an institution which really is international in scope.
"He had the vision to create an Imperial Court which has
just celebrated its 40th year and it drew upon as it evolved a
colorful San Francisco figure, Emperor Joshua Norton, to...truly
be a gay Shriners or Elks organization.
"Today there are 67 chapters of the Imperial Court in the
United States, Canada, and Mexico.
"During the 60s and 70s this is where it took place. This
is where people could dress up, this is where people could be
themselves, this is where a sense of community (was found), and
so many institutions evolved out of the Imperial Court.
"Bob Ross, who founded the Bay Area Reporter newspaper,
came out of the Imperial Court system - he was an Emperor in fact,
and that may have been one of the reasons he wasn't appointed
to Harvey Milk's seat, but I'm sure he never regretted it because
the Court System in many states around the nation created the
initial AIDS organizations and support organizations that have
grown through the GLUT community that we know so well."
Nicole Murray Ramirez, president of the International Imperial
Court System is seen at right. Ramirez serves as City Commission
in San Diego. Terence Kissack, executive director of the GLBT
Historical Society, accompanies the renowned Donna Sachet.