Photos: Jose Sarria Estate
In his lifetime, Jose Julio Sarria wore many hats (and wigs). Of the many roles he took on was a beloved drag performer at San Francisco’s Black Cat Cafe, founder of the distinguished LGBT organization Imperial Court System, and openly gay candidate for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
Now his journey from powdered wigs to political activism is the subject of a new documentary. Nelly Queen tells the story of the “Rosa Parks of the gay movement,” who ran for public office as an openly gay man in 1961.
Sarria made waves when he decided to take a stand for personal freedom. Though he ended up losing the election, he managed to garner 6,000 votes. His campaign established the existence of a gay voting block, which would ultimately see Harvey Milk to office a decade later.
Following the campaign, Sarria turned his attention to activism, founding the Imperial Court System, a grassroots network that would raise money for LGBT causes and is today the second largest LGBT organization in the United States.
Comprised of interviews, speeches, cemetery marches, and coronations with the ICS, Nelly Queen hopes to share this incredible journey with the world.
Sarria’s close friend, Joe Castel, is producing the film with the aid of an online auction, in order to help fund the project. Between Kickstarter and selling collected items from Sarria’s estate, the project hopes wrap production and distribute the film in 2015.