Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Jose Sarria

Born and raised in San Francisco, Jose Sarria served in the army during World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant. Hoping to become a teacher when he returned home after the war, he was the victim of police harassment of gay men, and his arrest on a morals charge precluded a teaching career. Instead Sarria worked as a waiter at The Black Cat Café, one of San Francisco’s most popular bohemian and gay hangouts. He often entertained patrons with campy performances imitating great opera divas. In 1961, angry at police harassment of gay bars, Sarria decided to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first openly gay candidate for elective office in the United States. “United we stand,” he told his supporters. “Divided they catch us one by one.” Though he lost his bid for office, his campaign sparked a wave of gay activism in San Francisco, years before the Stonewall Riots. In the mid-1960s, Sarria founded the Imperial Court of San Francisco, an organization designed to create opportunities and a support network for cross-dressers and performers. It soon grew into an International Imperial Court network. With more than sixty chapters in cities across North America, it has raised through its events millions of dollars for charities.