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Dufty proposes street renamed
after Jose Saria

One block of 16th Street between
Pond and Prospect

Castro representative Bevan Dufty. File photo.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

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 Monday.

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.




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