Running in Sensible Heels for Empress of San Francisco
I want the Imperial Council’s visibility to a new LGBTQ generation
Did you know that there’s a study on running in high heels? However, the running I’m doing at the moment isn’t on a race track or hosted by a TV drag personality. But, I’m running as a candidate for the role of Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco — the Founding Mother Court of the International Court System, a non-profit and the oldest LGBT charity organization globally.
The organization hosts various entertainment, educational events, and activities to raise funds; these ventures support the causes of other diverse community-based charitable organizations.
The cohort was founded in 1965 by drag queen, political activist, and philanthropist José Sarria — who was the first openly gay man to run for political office in the United States in 1961. (He was a pioneer in bringing the community together.)
When we look back at his life, it’s evident that he possessed the charm and power to create a more inclusive, queer-positive society. After his military service, Sarria returned to San Francisco and began working at the Black Cat during the mid-50s, a bar described by Allen Ginsberg as “the best gay bar in America.”
“It was totally open, bohemian, San Francisco…and everybody went there, heterosexual and homosexual,” Ginsberg also added. “All the gay screaming queens would come, the heterosexual gray flannel suit types, longshoremen. All the poets went there.”
It was there that Sarria started doing drag by entertaining the growing gay clientele — during a time when it was illegal to be homosexual. (At this time, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance.)
Sarria fought against police harassment and mobilized people to fight for queer rights. He forged onward doing what he knew was morally right, and he did so without questioning nor asking for permission; Sarria embodied what it meant to be a true trailblazer.
Why is everyone in my life now asking me why I’m running for Empress of San Francisco? And it is a valid question.
Towards the end of last summer, I got to watch the 2018 documentary 50 Years of Fabulous, which recounts the rich history of San Francisco’s Imperial Council. It is a brilliant look into San Francisco’s queer history, the community it created, and the foundation for LGBTQ human rights. Watching the documentary, you learn about its inception, peaks, triumphs, and decline as a leading force in the vision that Sarria initially created. As the film concluded — spinning the struggles the organization faced to find relevance in an ever-changing San Francisco — I realized this moment was both a call for action and summoning to step up and make my run.
Like Sarria, I’ve been an active member of our community as a drag queen, mother, political activist, and philanthropist for over thirty years. During those three-plus decades, I have had the fantastic opportunity to work closely with many of our city’s leaders, activists, and social icons to bring people together and make a positive change in our society.
American politician Mark Leno said of me: “Juanita’s commitment to the greater good is no secret. The calendar year is filled with annual events that she has conceived of and created herself. Every one of them raises significant funds through volunteer efforts to support and sustain local non-profit organizations.
“Remarkably, each of them grows in popularity, increasing the amount that the chosen beneficiaries will receive,” Leno continued. “Juanita’s Pride Sunday party, which competes with so many other events that day, has become the preeminent place to be, always oversubscribed. Her collaboration with the LGBTQ Community Center’s spring Soiree has contributed to that evening’s enormous success.”
In the article “Long Live the QUEEN!”, The Fight magazine writer Brenden Shucart said, “If the late Jose Sarria has a spiritual descendent, it is without a doubt San Francisco’s preeminent drag icon, the one, and only Juanita MORE! Though never elected to the Imperial Court founded by the late Widow Norton, arguably there isn’t a queen in the country who more elegantly embodies the disparate disciplines of politics, philanthropy, and drag into one person.”
Shucart continued, “The City’s preeminent Queen is also easily the most iconic.”
“Her image graces murals and party posters across SF,” he added. “She has successfully leveraged that visibility in a way that’s not just fighting against the loss of queer culture but also ensuring a queer future. From Juanita’s List, an online group helping [over 10,000 members to date] LGBTQ folks navigate the brutal Bay Area housing market to her legendary family dinners, she reminds even the iciest queen of why we leave our hearts in San Francisco.”
Deputy Executive Director of the SF LGBT Center Roberto Isaac Ordeñana said, “in running for Empress, Juanita would serve as a role model, particularly for other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in our community.”
“Many young and/or aspiring artists look up to her, seek her counsel, and are mentored by her,” Ordeñana powdered. “I am confident that she would carry forth the enduring legacy of José Sarria and the hundreds of individuals who have helped shape and resource our community through the Imperial Council.”
All this considered: If elected, I intend to work with Imperial Council’s board members, past Empresses and Emperors, and community to continue the legacy of Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton.
Alas, there is a lot of work to be done. My goal is to continue the Imperial Court’s future and legacy as the world’s oldest and largest LGBTQ organization; to re-energize their membership base, maximize their website and social media presence; and push the organization’s visibility to a new LGBTQ generation.
As a mother of the House of MORE! and to a generation of queer folk, I have gained the experience to guide, lead, and inspire. If you believe I have met the qualifications to be your next Empress, please vote for me.
VOTING DAY IS APRIL 17; THE RULES ARE AS FOLLOW:
- You must be 18 years or older, a San Francisco, Marin, or San Mateo County resident.
- You will need a valid ID and place only one vote per person.
- Social distancing and masks are required to vote safely.
- Voting locations:
- POLK: Cinch Saloon 11 a.m. — 4 p.m.
- SOMA: Powerhouse 1 p.m. — 5 p.m.
- CASTRO: Muni Station 12 p.m. — 6 p.m.