Not wanting to leave anything to chance, or to the event planning abilities of others, pioneering LGBT activist Jose Sarria laid out specific instructions for how his funeral would go down. His Imperial Court family - all those members of the organization that he founded when he named himself Empress I in 1965 - made it happen, and all arrived to Grace Cathedral today in San Francisco wearing their veils, crowns, and mourning garb, as requested.
"From the Black Cat to the great cathedral. How about that," joked his longtime friend Maurice "Michelle" Gerry. And the cathedral was, in fact, packed with a full house of friends, loved ones, and admirers, some of whom had flown in from across the country. The service was presided over by Episcopal Bishop the Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus, and had all the pomp that Sarria would have wanted, complete with a processional and recessional featuring all the living crowned Empresses and Emperors of the home court, in S.F.
Those of us who aren't connected to or affiliated with the Imperial Court could joke about the theatricality of it all, but it was, as State Senator Mark Leno pointed out, a great big family that Sarria created for himself, and for everyone who joined in all the various chapters thereafter. His enduring legacy may be his contributions to the gay civil rights movement, proving first in 1961 that an openly gay candidate could, in fact, garner thousands of votes in this city. It's been said that after Sarria's unsuccessful but notable run for city Supervisor that year, no political candidate here could ever run for office without knocking on the door of the gay community. And in becoming the Rosa Parks of the movement, and the first to put himself out there, Leno noted in his remarks, "If you should be so lucky as to go to City Hall to get married to the love of your life, give a little thanks to Jose Sarria."
But Sarria's other legacy is the Court, and a number of his friends and fellow titleholders spoke at the very moving service, pointing out many of his foibles Gerry recalled the time Sarria taught him how to write a bad check to buy a car, and several people noted that he was famous for his extra-long speeches, always holding court to the end.
He was, if nothing else, an entertainer who loved the spotlight. On top of the church theater that accompanied the service, there were, too, a lot of laughs. His friend James Mangia related the story from just a year or so ago when Sarria told him, "I''m not ready to die yet." Mangia said, "You're 90 years old, you've lived an extraordinary life. Maybe it's time to let go."
Sarria replied, "Yeah, but there's a few more queens I need to bury first before I go."