José Sarria leaves a legacy in the LGBT community

Credit Empress Ajax of San Diego

Credit Empress Ajax of San Diego

José Sarria, the first empress of the International Imperial Court and the first openly gay man to run for public office in the United States, died at his home in Albuquerque, N.M at age 90. He leaves behind a legacy in the LGBT community that will be remembered through the non-profit organizations he’s founded and the influence he had in politics.

In 1961 Sarria ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chair, while he did not win this public seat he paved the way for people such as Harvey Milk to later take office.

In interviews Sarria said he ran for public office because he was tired the way the government was being run and he wanted to create change.

“José lived his life openly with pride and dignity at the time when it was dangerous to do so, inspiring others to do the same,” said Sister Renee Zonce of the San Diego Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Sarria was often seen in full drag walking arm in arm with Milk through government buildings in San Francisco.

In the August 19, 2013 news release from San Diego’s Council President Todd Gloria, he emphasized the importance of Sarria’s run for office and what it meant for the LGBT community in politics.

“The fact that the sexual orientation of candidates is no longer considered a barrier to election in San Diego is due to the brave steps Mr. Sarria took for us all 50 years ago,” said Gloria.

Gloria expressed his gratitude for Sarria “paving the way” for those LGBT identified who have been able to serve in public office.

Sarria expanded his work through the International Imperial Court system, which he founded in 1965 and has become the second largest LGBT non-profit organization in the world.

“Despite having founded and nurtured the second largest LGBT organizations in the word, he never lost his humility,” wrote Witti Repartee; a drag queen, blogger and 2012 Empress of New York.

She met and socialized with Sarria several times before joining the court system and was mentored by him while she reigned.

Sarria took the name Empress I, The Widow Norton after “adopting” Joshua Norton; Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, who died in 1880 and is buried in San Francisco. And thus began the reign of the International Imperial Court.

Sarria’s view for the future lead him to help and nurture relationships with those younger than him who still have the ability to create a more equal society.

“He was willing to nurture [this] young kid, helping to build and ensure a new generation of leaders would be ready to step up when called,” wrote Witti Repartee speaking about her interactions with Sarria, “

Witti Repartee also talked about Sarria attending coronations in 2012 at age 89, “he was active, engaged, had more twinkle than an elf, and was full of good humor, dirty stories and memories to share”

Sarria will be buried adjacent to Emperor Norton I on September 9, 2013. But while his time has passed his legend and his works will live on …

Or as the 2012 Empress of the Imperial Court de San Diego, RubyEmpress Ajax, put it, “The Empress is dead … Long Live the Empress.”

The Power of Six & Lube wrestling against AIDS

Slippery wrestling for AIDS research is the main event for The Power of Six, a gathering of six organizations and groups in the San Diego LGBT community, who are pooling their resources to fundraise jointly for the AIDS Walk & Run San Diego on September 29.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Leather Community, The Bear Community, The Imperial Court, The Golden State Gay Rodeo Association and The Transgender Community are each know for the works they have done and continue to do in the community.  While some focus on education and others activism, they all have a universal goal of bettering the community.

“It’s a universal disease and this is a universal fundraiser,” said Sister Amanda Reckinwith from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

The Lube it up! Strip it down fundraiser will be held at Numbers Nightclub on September 14 at 3 p.m.

“You will have the opportunity to see your local community representatives battle it out in slippery contact,” reads the event page on Facebook.

When the San Diego AIDS Walk started there were only a handful of organization actively fundraising for it, but now there are dozens of groups and non-profit organizations that make this an annual effort.

With so many people who cross over various sections of the community, representative from The Power of Six saw this union as the next logical step.

“The idea is not to wipe away the identity of the individual groups,” said Sister Amanda Reckinwith, “It’s about enhancing the fact that we are all in this together.”

In years past people have attended several fundraising event and had to stretch their donation dollars along various groups, now people ready to donate have one central place.

Each group kept some of their previously scheduled fund raising efforts, melded other scheduled events together and launched their main joint efforts in July.  The event at Numbers will be the culmination of their cross collaboration and cross promotion efforts for AIDS research.

Saving LGBT literature one author at a time

The San Diego Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation is going on nearly a year of organizing their book club and educating the public on the often ignored Multicultural LGBT book genre.

The San Diego Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation. Photo Credit: Holly Finn

The San Diego Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation.
Photo Credit: Holly Finn

While finishing his master’s degree Caleb Rainey started reading multicultural LGBT books, but noticed that a majority of these books were either hard to find or out of print.  He found that a majority of books written by people of color were not in print for very long, if at all.  And if the author was LGBT as well as a person of color the likelihood of the book being available to the public was even less.

Rainey’s love for books and literature pushed him to organize the foundation because as he said, “no one else was doing it.”

Their main mission is to promote and preserve the works of multicultural LGBT authors. Through their book club, publicity and fundraisers they work towards keeping these books in print and will eventually work on getting a greater majority of these books into print.

The foundation has started fundraising towards their next events of 2013.

“We are launching our new program where we bring writers to San Diego to give talks and workshops,” said Rainey.

The foundation has reached out to two authors and will be bringing them to San Diego where they will be signing books, reading from their works and discussing the various issues that are brought up in their books.

Emmanuel Xavier, author of Christ Like and If Jesus Were Gay, and Charles Rice-Gonzalez, author of Chulito, are each scheduled to visit San Diego in October and November.

The foundation also leads a twice monthly book club group in a conversation about the chosen book.  Rainey described the book club meetings as dynamic and a place where people can really open up.  At times the talks are tense, but the group will typically settle into a fluid conversation and delve deep into the books topics and social issues.

“We base our discussions around the issues of social justice, racism, homophobia and poverty that are raised in the books that we read,” said Rainey.

The group uses as a launching pad the social issues that impact the characters in the book.  Using these characters the group is able to think of creative ways the character could have changed his or her situation or made an impact in the social issues.  With a diverse author selection the group is able to delve into the South African social climate one month and in the next tackle the rape culture that plagues America.

The August book club read is Yes means yes! Vision of female sexual power & a world without rape by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti.  The forward, written by Margaret Cho, and the essays in the book are a personal revelation by the authors that emote strong feelings in people who have experienced the type of depravity that the essays describe.

The book club meets the first and third Sundays of the month at Bluestocking Books on Fifth Avenue and the book of the month is posted on the foundations Facebook page just before the end of each month.

The foundation has already applied for 501C3 status, which should be finalizing in November 2013.  Raney and Co-Director Stephanie Farley are eagerly awaiting the finalization of their non-profit status as they are already working on the foundations events for 2014.

Their fundraisers for these events include two Pictionary fundraisers on October 16 and November 20.

Taking a stance against sexual assault

After an anonymous man spoke out about being drugged and raped, the LGBT community is banding together to create a coalition to change the culture that has allowed the sexual assaults of men and women throughout the LGBT community.

On Thursday June 13, 2013 Caleb Rainey organized a committee on sexual assault and prevention, which gripped the attention of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Fetish Men San Diego, the San Diego Leather community, Men Mentoring Men, and the Empress of the Imperial Court of San Diego.

Sister Farrah Moans emphasized the need to, “Empower the community to speak up and step forward.”

Along with representatives of the Center for Community Solutions a movement has started and is being fueled by a desire to make the LGBT community a safer place to socialize as well as live.

Without minimizing the need to help the victims of sexual assaults, Rainey steered the conversation to prevention.

“We need to be talking about how to keep it [sexual assaults] from happening,” said Rainey.

The group decided on six root causes that have contributed to, if not created, a culture of underlying violence throughout San Diego.  The causes that they feel are essential to change or address through their campaign  are the fear of outing, external and internal homophobia, interrupting cycles of oppression, the culture of demonizing or stigmatizing the body, the stigma of promiscuity, and the feeling of entitlement.

There is no one answer and it will be an uphill battle to change the very mindset of the community. As a group the 20 people who gathered for this meeting are moving forward with a collective effort to gather resources and create change.  Moving from the current victim blaming status quo, to placing the blame where it should actually lay.

“The responsibility for raping is on the rapist,” said Liat Wexler with the Center for Community Solutions.

What’s next? The Committee is going to be calling on leaders from each LGTB affiliated group and organization to create a collaboration of like-minded individuals who will be able to disseminate information and resources throughout the community.

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Saturday, June 15 2013, at 10:00 p.m. the SPI will be leading a walk against sexual assault from Pride Park into Hillcrest to bring awareness to the situation and show the community that they are not alone.

EARTH Award to the Sisters

For protecting the children and their families during the San Diego Earth Fair 2013 the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were awarded the San Diego EarthWorks Environmental Action and Restoration That Helps Award on May 29, 2013.”

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San Diego Earth Works has seen a rise in extremist groups and protesters attending the Earth Fair since 2002.  They have been working towards finding a solution that would allow for freedom of speech, but also protect the attendees who do not want to be subjected to images of aborted fetuses.

“This year they [the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence] really stood up against hate speech,” said Carolyn Chase the co-founder and CEO of San Diego Earth Works.

With their trademark elaborate face paint and wearing nuns habits The Sisters held up umbrellas and fans to abstract the posters from view.  Since the protesters were only allowed to stand in a cordoned off area The Sisters stood at the borders where they attracted attention to themselves and away from the posters.  They also advised attendees with children of alternate routes.

“I think It’s such a wonderful art form,” said Chase, “because it distracts people, it attracts people, and it stands up to bigotry and hatred, which is a difficult issues at this time. “

Council President Todd Gloria was in attendance at the San Diego EarthWorks’ 23rd Annual Very Important Planet Reception and presented the E.A.R.T.H. Award to The Sisters.

“I’m so proud that so many of them are my constituents,” said Council President Gloria, “The sisters do many great thing.”

EARTH AwardThe San Diego Sisters are officially known as The Asylum of the Tortured Heart inc. and founding member Sister Hecate elaborated on why they are named as such.

“We try to provide asylum for people that need us, like Earth Day,” said Sister Hecate, “we were very honored to be asked to participate with you and to turn the people away from the icky images.”

Yearly, after every Earth Fair, San Diego EarthWorks received several phone calls and at least a dozen emails complaining about the protesters and the images that they show.  At the award ceremony CFO Chris Klein said that they received only one email complaint after the 2013 Earth Fair.

“For these folks [the protesters] really destroys the family atmosphere of the entire event,” said Klein.

Klein, Chase and Gloria all smiled and said words of appreciation to The Sisters as Sister Hecate and Sister Kali walked up to receive the award.

“It lets people who go to the earth fair know that we really don’t want these people [protesters] there,” said Klein.

VOGUE Decadence

Why is Vogue Decadence on Sister Moment you ask!?

Because Producer Ajax is also known in the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as Sister Amanda Reckinwith.  He’s been preforming drag for years and has been an active lobbyist for the LGBT community.

Every civil movement has to start somewhere and Ajax has pushed to be at the forefront of every drag and LGBT civil advancement in California and San Diego.

He was an Air-force officer just before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was instated and has seen first hand the prejudice, manipulation and hypocrisy towards the LGBT community.

“You have to start somewhere if you’re going to become someone in [a movement],” said Ajax, “and that somewhere usually starts within your own community doing what feel is right, because you see where you can make a difference.”