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    Photo©Gareth Gooch 2015 ( Garaje Gooch )
    Celebrating the Imperial Council of San Francisco on Its 50th Anniversary

    At an event a few years ago, a member of our San Francisco Bay Times team accidentally tripped, sending a drink flying onto a small nearby table. Beautiful, elegant hands reached out to mop up the spill and to hug the apologizing, very embarrassed individual. “It’s no trouble,” said the considerate rescuer, who completely turned the situation around with witty conversation and compliments, all while shaping the tongue-tied listener’s hair into a fashionable do. “I’m Nicole.”

    The rest of that humble introduction could have been: “Empress Nicole the Great, Her Most Imperial Majesty, The Queen Mother I of the Americas.” But true greatness needs no introduction. It just is.

    That has been our experience with the leaders of the International Imperial Court System. These remarkable individuals, such as San Francisco’s own Absolute Empress XXX & Heir Apparent Donna Sachet, are generous to a fault, charismatic, stylish and loving community leaders. As for Empress Nicole the Great’s mini rescue, it often starts with basic human kindness, which can grow and inspire others to be more, and to do more.

    The results speak for themselves. The International Imperial Court System, which is the world’s oldest LGBT charity organization, has raised millions of dollars for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Harvey Milk Foundation, the Trevor Project, and too many others here to name. Suffice it to say, if you have been helped by an LGBT organization over the years, there’s a good chance that the Imperial Courts and their members contributed in some way to that group’s strength.


    The efforts all began right here in the Bay Area fifty years ago, when José Julio Sarria, Absolute Empress I, founded the first Imperial Court, now known as the Imperial Council of San Francisco. Although homosexuality was considered to be a felony then in most U.S. states, brilliant Sarria had already honed her skills as an LGBT political activist and grassroots organizer. Through the Imperial Council and later Courts, she used those skills to educate and cultivate a greater community sense of gay pride, identity and unity. Sarria, aka “The Widow Norton,” was also a talented singer and performer, whose undeniable warmth and wit did wonders in shifting public opinion about LGBT people.

    Sarria passed away in 2013, but her incredible legacy lives on. That impressive legacy will be evident during this 50th anniversary year, when the Imperial Council of San Francisco, in partnership with the GLBT Historical Society, will present historic exhibits throughout the City at libraries, museums, and other public places. The exhibits will document the Council’s rich heritage with costumes, programs, audio and video recordings, letters and other items. Speakers from the Council’s membership will be made available to organizations to present the Council’s long history and to shine new light on this extraordinary non-profit charitable and public service group.

    Celebrations will take place in cities all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico. There are now over 65 chapters of the International Court System that were inspired by the original Imperial Council of San Francisco. The anniversary year will culminate in the 50th Golden Jubilee State Dinner in Portland, Oregon, on Friday, October 23, 2015.

    Coming up very soon, though, is the San Francisco 50th Gala Celebration, to be held on Sunday, February 15, at San Francisco’s City Hall. The event will include cocktails, a seated dinner, an extended trailer for the upcoming film 50 Years of Fabulous, a magnificent commemorative program, formal processional in the Rotunda of 50 years of Emperors and Empresses, and dessert afterwards. The Imperial Council of San Francisco has partnered with Project Open Hand, one of its longtime beneficiaries, to provide the evening’s sumptuous buffet. As the Council promises, “For one night, expect to experience all the pageantry for which the Imperial Court of San Francisco is known, including sumptuous gowns, decadent jewelry, and regal ceremonies, reflecting the best of European royalty right here in San Francisco.”

    Emperor John Weber, Chairman of the Imperial Council of San Francisco, added, “For half a century, the Imperial Court of San Francisco has been on the forefront of raising needed funds for struggling non-profit charitable organizations. As Chairman of the Board of Directors, I’ve been entrusted with leading this historic, yet relevant, organization into its 50th year. My ultimate goal as Chairman is to ensure that our 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration is a world-class event like nothing you have ever seen. City Hall will be transformed into an Imperial Palace of love, reflective of our unabashed generosity.”

    We couldn’t agree more about the Imperial Court’s generosity and loving spirit. All of us here at the San Francisco Bay Times—including our legendary photographer Rink, who was named “Prince to the Council of Emperors” in 2009—wish the Imperial Council of San Francisco a happy 50th anniversary, and countless more years to come.

    For additional information about the Imperial Council of San Francisco, and to buy tickets to the upcoming Gala Celebration, please visit