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US: Hundreds gather to bid gay rights pioneer farewell

José Julio Sarria 'changed the political landscape of San Francisco': Mark Leno

José Julio Sarria, also known as Empress Jose I. Credit: flickr.com

Hundreds of elaborately dressed mourners gathered in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral Sept 6 for the funeral of gay rights pioneer José Julio Sarria, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Sarria, also known as Empress Jose I, died in his home on Aug 19 at the age of 90. Funeral attendees were decked in extravagant Victorian black lace, bustles and trains in Sarria’s honour.

Sarria rose from waiting tables in a bohemian San Francisco nightclub to become the first openly gay candidate for political office in the United States. He also founded the first Imperial Court in San Francisco and organized tirelessly against the arbitrary arrest of San Francisco gay people.

"He stood for justice,” said Democratic Senator Mark Leno. “He said, 'There is nothing wrong with being gay; the crime is being caught.’” Leno said that after Sarria’s unsuccessful run for office in 1961, no candidate would run without asking for support from the gay community. “He changed the political landscape of San Francisco. Forever.”

Sarria was buried next to legendary San Francisco eccentric and self-proclaimed emperor Joshua Abraham Norton.