Jose Julio Sarria, a pioneer of the gay rights movement, died of
cancer on Monday at his home in New Mexico. He was 90.
Sarria was a proud World War II veteran, the first openly gay
candidate to run for public office in North America, and the founder
of the International Court System.
After his discharge from the Army, Sarria became San Francisco's
most famous drag queen.
His 1961 unsuccessful bid to the San Francisco Board of
Supervisors helped pave the way for Harvey Milk's 1977 election win.
“Jose Julio Sarria was indeed the Rosa Parks of the gay rights
movement as an activist in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Nicole
Murray-Ramirez, a San Diego appointed city human rights commissioner.
Sarria in 1965 organized a loose alliance of social groups into
the International Court System, a fraternal LGBT charity
“The Imperial Courts are like the gay Shriners/Elks of North
America and have raised millions of dollars for charities these last
48 years,” explained
Murray-Ramirez, who in 2007 succeeded Sarria in leading the
Before his death, Sarria donated an extensive collection of
memorabilia from his career as an entertainer and activist to the
GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.
“In the darkest days of oppression of GLBT people in the 1960s,
when it was in effect illegal to be gay, Sarria fought for our rights
as one of a tiny handful of GLBT activists,” the museum said in a
statement. “A gifted performer, he used his stage at a famous San
Francisco gay bar, the Black Cat Cafe, to rail against police
oppression and to urge GLBT people to stand up for ourselves.”