Imperial Court de San Diego: 40 years of historyBottom Highlights, Feature Story Thursday, February 9th, 2012
Although this week’s big event in the San Diego LGBT community was the march and rally celebrating the Proposition 8 decision, the weekend will be filled with an event that is arguably just as important – the 40th Anniversary Coronation of the Imperial Court de San Diego. San Diego LGBT Weekly caught up with the first elected emperor of the court, #1 Fifth Ave. bar owner, Omar Lowry to learn a little court history.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: What was the purpose of the court being established?
Omar Lowry: They had courts in L.A. and in San Francisco and two San Diegans, Darl Edwards and Don Lavigne decided we should have a court down here. The court was more than a social club. The courts turned out to be, you know, a money maker. Right away, we found that we had an opportunity to do things to interact with the straight community by helping not just gay organizations – which there weren’t many of back then – but to help pay for seeing-eye dogs for the blind and things like that. That showed we weren’t child molesters … but that we wanted to interact with the straight community and that we are part of the whole community.
So you were the first emperor?
I was the first elected emperor and I got two-thirds of the vote – I was much younger and much prettier (laughs). About a thousand people showed up to vote.
Originally it was this club that was going to bridge the gap between gays and straights that had events. How did the fundraising begin?
We actually had to borrow about $400 from Lou Arco, and we paid him back fully. We started with fundraising events that first year. We had a Halloween ball down at the embarcadero; we had a Christmas wonderland; we had garage sales – all kinds of stuff.
Why the monarchy structure?
You’re going to need people and if you promise a queen a pair of heels and a tiara, well need I say more. There you have your court.
And all the money went to and still goes to charities? What about expenses?
From the start, we didn’t want to use the money on the members of the court. We used the money from our fundraisers for donations and we paid for everything ourselves. I remember early on, we rented a bus to San Francisco; that cost everybody $35.
Tell me about Jose Sarria, the first gay person to run for public office in the early 1960s.
Jose Sarria founded the San Francisco court – the first court. He was crowned “the Queen Mother of the Americas,” a title now held by Nicole Murray Ramirez.
I understand during the 40 years of its existence, the San Diego Court has raised about $1 million; is that correct?
I know it’s at least hundreds of thousands. You know, this year alone they’ve raised $70,000
Were there celebrities involved?
Well you know, in the 1970s there was all this free love going around, the other she-she thing was you had to know a black, a Jew and a gay person. So we had a lot of she-she.
Famous people: Well of course there was Harvey Milk. But we had Hermione Baddeley (the elderly and vulgar British maid of TV’s Maude, who drank and lied compulsively) and Estelle Getty. They weren’t booked to appear; they just showed up as somebody’s guest. Jane Fonda came to the gay bars when her husband Tom Hayden was running for office. I was surprised she was NOT Hanoi Jane as I kind of expected.
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