Empress Jose I, the Widow Norton
san diego
Imperial Court System founder Jose Sarria steps down
San Diego City Commissioner Nicole-Murray Ramirez assumes responsibilities
Published Thursday, 02-Nov-2006 in issue 984
International Imperial Court System founder Jose Sarria has stepped down and transferred his title and all responsibilities to San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez, who has served as International Court Council president.
The International Imperial Court System, which has grown to more than 70 chapters in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, is a network of nonprofit charitable organizations that raise money for various beneficiaries. The primary goals of the Imperial Court are to further relationships with businesses and organizations, hold functions and fund-raisers to benefit the community and to help others in the community who need assistance.
A crowning ceremony will take place on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle, Wash. It will coincide with the annual Coronation dinner for the Imperial Court of Seattle. Murray-Ramirez said many of the courts from across the U.S., Mexico and Canada will be in attendance for the event.
Also known as Jose I, the Widow Norton, Sarria founded the Imperial Court System in 1965. He created the name Widow Norton as a reference to eccentric 19th century San Franciscan Joshua Norton, who had declared himself Emperor of the U.S and Protector of Mexico in 1859.
Sarria first began his drag performance career in the late 1930s. After enlisting for service in World War II and returning home, he became a gay rights activist and fund-raiser for the GLBT community, and frequently performed at the Black Cat Café in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood during the 1950s. As the first openly gay man to run for political office in the U.S., Sarria unsuccessfully ran for city supervisor in 1961, garnering 5,600 votes and coming in ninth place out of 33 candidates.
According to Murray-Ramirez, whose current title within the Imperial Court is Empress Nicole the Great, Sarria named his successors when he began to experience health problems about a decade ago. Murray-Ramirez said he was the first in line among a list of 21 other heirs.
The title Murray-Ramirez assumes after the crowning ceremony will be Queen Mother of the Americas, giving him the responsibility of ruling the entire International Court System, which includes issuing all proclamations.
Empress Nicole the Great
“Issuing these proclamations is very important because they become the rules and the laws,” he said. “It also gives me the right to change the line of succession.”
After stepping down from the International Court Council as president, Murray-Ramirez will begin to make decisions concerning the direction of the International Court System, which he said he is looking forward to.
“I want to bring the court system more into the 21st century,” he said. “The courts, for all their hard work, are not known that much because the courts in all these cities just don’t go out to get noticed; they just do their work year after year after year. I think they need a really good public relations campaign. I think the courts need to talk more about themselves and let [people] know the great work that they’re doing.”
The establishment of a foundation within the court system that would work with all the court chapters to donate money is something Murray-Ramirez also said he wants to create.
“I want to remodel the court system and make it more effective, more businesslike on an international scene, more accountable and more open,” he said.
The Imperial Court has been working on a book about the history of the organization that Murray-Ramirez anticipates will be published within a year.
“I see also holding international conferences where the average court person can come and share their feelings,” he said. “I want to have more of an open-door policy, and the key word is being accessible. Jose, in all due respects, because of his health, couldn’t do all the things he would have liked to do.”
San Diego’s Imperial Court chapter will celebrate its 36th year in 2007. Murray-Ramirez said the Imperial Court de San Diego has raised at least $25 million since its inception in 1973 and has donated vital seed money to help establish San Diego LGBT Pride, Mama’s Kitchen, AIDS Walk and The Center.

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