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    Resolution Approved to Induct José Julio Sarria into the California Hall of Fame

    Supervisor Rafael Mandelman on May 14 introduced a resolution in support of inducting José Julio Sarria into the California Hall of Fame. A week later, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the resolution. Mandelman explained Sarria’s importance:

    José Sarria is a crucial figure in LGBTQ and San Francisco history. Born in San Francisco in 1922, José served in World War II and, following his honorable discharge in 1947, returned home to San Francisco. During the 1950s he became one of San Francisco’s best-known drag performers, singing full-blown operas in his natural high tenor at the Black Cat Cafe in North Beach. At the time, police harassment of gay people and raids of gay bars were routine. José himself had to give up his pursuit of becoming a teacher after being arrested and convicted on a morals charge, and this experience inspired him to become one of the LGBTQ rights movement’s early activists. He was a vocal critic of the criminalization of queer people and queer meeting places, and would promote a groundbreaking sense of gay pride and positive gay identity in his performances.

    In 1961, José became the first known openly gay candidate for public office in the world by running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Although he did not win his election, he received over 5,000 votes coming in 9th in a field of 32 candidates, thus demonstrating for the first time the existence of a “gay voting bloc.” His courageous decision to run for office paved the way for every out candidate to follow, including Harvey Milk, who was a friend of José’s and whom José supported in his successful run for the Board of Supervisors in 1977.

    In 1964, José proclaimed himself “Empress of San Francisco, widow of Emperor Joshua Norton and Protector of Mexico,” and founded the The Imperial Court of San Francisco. Today, the Imperial Court system is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ organizations in the world with 68 courts across the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Imperial Court of San Francisco raises up to $100,000 annually for a variety of charities, including the Gay-Straight Alliance, San Francisco Suicide Prevention and the Trevor Project.

    In 2013, José passed away at the age of 90, and, to honor him, the International Imperial Court System began a national campaign to induct him to the California Hall of Fame. Six years later that campaign has garnered the support of many organizations and elected officials including President pro Tempore of the California State Senate Toni G. Atkins, Senator Scott Wiener, founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation Stuart Milk, and the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.

    Though José was not successful in his own election to the Board of Supervisors, the trail he blazed for all of the queer politicos who would follow, and the impact he had on LGBTQ rights in San Francisco and around the world make him deeply deserving of induction into the California Hall of Fame.

    Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to approve the resolution. The public may also nominate individuals to the California Hall of Fame: