San Francisco -- José Julio Sarria (1922-2013), a pioneer of activism on behalf of dignity and equality for GLBT people in the United States since the mid-1950s, died of cancer at his home in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque on the morning of Aug. 19, 2013; he was 90 years old.
Before his death, Sarria had donated his extensive archives, along with costumes, artwork and memorabilia from his career as an entertainer and activist, to the GLBT Historical Society, an archives, research center and museum in San Francisco.
Statement from Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society:
The GLBT Historical Society notes with great sadness the death of Jose Julio Sarria, one of the founders of the modern queer community. We have lost one of our grandest, most daring and most high-spirited pioneers -- an iconic leader who guided our community for more than six decades with skill as an organizer, with talent and wit as an entertainer, and with a clear vision of equality.
In the darkest days of oppression of GLBT people in the 1950s, when it was in effect illegal to be gay, Sarria fought for our rights as one of a tiny handful of GLBT activists. A gifted performer, he used his stage at a famous San Francisco gay bar, the Black Cat Café, to rail against police oppression and to urge GLBT people to stand up for ourselves.
In 1961, in the midst of a San Francisco police crackdown on gay bars and other gay meeting place, José ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In so doing, he became the first known openly gay candidate for elected office anywhere in the world. Although he did not win, he received over 5,000 votes.
José also cofounded pioneering GLBT organizations, including the League for Civil Education (LCE) in 1961, the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) in 1964 and the Imperial Court System in 1965. These institutions are forerunners of the multitude of GLBT activist and nonprofit organizations that exist today. Indeed, the Imperial Court system, now in its 48th year, continues its role as a major fundraising organization in many cities across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
José Sarria was one of the great pioneers who created the GLBT community that exists today. Wherever there are GLBT groups fighting for equality or undertaking community service, they are emulating José, who often said, "There is nothing wrong with being gay. I want you to look out for each other."