Empress Juanita MORE! and Emperor Glamamore of the Imperial Court of San Francisco will preside over the 25th Annual Golden Gate Gaymes & Picnic Sunday, and you can still sign up to compete in events like Wheel of Misfortune and Lip-Sync or Swim.
Today, September 17, is Empire Day, the anniversary of the day in 1859 when Emperor Norton declared himself "Emperor of these United States." Emperor Norton would inspire José Sarria, a 1960s-era gay political activist who proclaimed himself "Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton." And José Sarria would inspire the Imperial Court System, a grassroots LGBTQ charity organization that started here in San Francisco in 1965, and now spans the globe and is the second largest LGBTQ fundraising organization on earth.
We still have our local chapter, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as the Imperial Council of San Francisco, and its big annual fundraiser this weekend is a milestone. The 25th Anniversary Golden Gate Gaymes & Picnic is Sunday at Mariposa Bay Front Park in Mission Bay, bringing gay competitors and their allies to compete in events like Wheel of Misfortune and Lip-Sync or Swim. There is of course a pageant component, too, awarding titles of Mr. Golden Gate, Miss Golden Gate, Ms. Golden Gate, and this year, “the first gender non-conforming title in the Golden Gate family, Mx. Golden Gate.”
Two of my favorite people are running for Empress an Emperor of The Imperial Council of San Francisco...I hope you’ll consider them on April 17. Photo by Gooch pic.twitter.com/5y4GWsvLHV— MuthaChucka (@MuthaChucka) April 5, 2021
“It’s the oldest gay fundraising organization in history. It’s been going 56 years,” says current reigning emperor Mr. David Glamamore (full title “His Most Imperial Majesty, Quing of the Nightlife, Mr. David Glamamore,” who serves alongside Empress Juanita MORE!, full title “Her Most Imperial Majesty, La Hembra de la Jefe Wants More! From the Liquor Store.”)
“It’s not really about gowns and crowns,” he tells us. “All that money filters back into the community. 90% of all funds made goes back into the community directly. It’s this fundraising machine that's been around for more than a half a century.”
The current reigning Ms. Golden Gate, Bernadette Bohan, adds that “It started as a gay male organization that was sort of tongue-in-cheek, and based on the British Royal system. But as we do in San Francisco, we turned it on its head and it became a place for drag queens, performers, artists, and people with good hearts who want to give back to the community. And now, it is extremely radically inclusive and diverse with with women, people of color, trans, non-binary and radically self-expressed folx which is amazing to be a part of.”
The Golden Gate Gaymes is similarly tongue-in-cheek, and you can watch as a spectator, or compete in teams of four in a series of not-exactly sports events. These events also include Empress’ Balls, and Good Head.
“Basically, you’re given a drag number that day,” Glamamore explains, of Lip-Sync or Swim. “During the run of the games, they have you put yourselves together in some form of drag, choreograph a drag number, and then deliver that at the end of the Gaymes, which will be at the Powerhouse after the picnic itself.
“It’s like basically, come up with the drag number, and the look, and the choreography, in a few hours, and then put it on display that evening.”
This being drag culture, the Imperial Council throws pageants and bestows titles galore. This year’s Golden Gate titles will be bestowed Sunday (“How you win the title is you sell the most raffle tickets,” Glamamore says), whereas the Emperor and Empress are crowned in early spring by public vote. And with the return of in-person events, the Council has title competitions lined up as far as the eye can see.
“Next month we have The Gays, which is Mr. Gay, Ms. Gay, and Mx. Gay, that’s more of a pageant,” according to Glamamore. “We have the ownership of some leather imperial titles. We’re going to see if we can't revive one of these titles that we still own that nobody’s used for several years, and do an Imperial leather contest as well, that will be around January.”
You can show up to watch Sunday’s Golden Gate Gaymes as a spectator ($15), or get a tickets with a lunch deal ($25), or compete in a team of four people ($150 for a team of four.) And yes, you can currently still sign up to compete this close to the event.
“You can sign up to compete until 2 p.m. on Sunday,” Glamamore says. “I think we’re saying the cutoff is 1:30, with the idea that people will be on drag time.”
The 25th Anniversary Golden Gate Gaymes & Picnic is Sunday, September 19, 12 Noon, at Mariposa Bay Front Park (824 Terry A Francois Boulevard) with “The Finale” afterparty at Powerhouse. Tickets Here
Image: Imperial Council SF