José Sarria Foundation

For the love of Mama José

Jose Julio Sarria was a legend!

He was WW2 veteran, the first out candidate for public office in 1961, a cabaret performer and a political activist all BEFORE Stonewall. The below bio on Jose created by the ICC and released as a part of his obituary provides a great glimpse into his storied life.

Joseph “Jose” Julio Sarria was his given name, but we just called him Mama Jose. We all loved him and this organization is dedicated to his memory.

The foundation is dedicated to keeping Jose Sarria’s memory alive for future generations by continuing his life’s work of philanthropy, balanced with a healthy dose of fun. The Jose Sarria Foundation is an all-volunteer, non-profit corporation chartered in the State of Washington and recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 public charity.

The JSF has a few simple goals:

  • Preserve, protect and catalog historic artifacts that belonged to Mama Jose
  • Promote events that honor Jose’s legacy by others
  • Seek opportunities to expand public awareness of the countless contributions of Jose Sarria’s storied life

About the Foundation

The Jose Sarria Foundation is an all-volunteer non-profit corporation chartered in the State of Washington and is recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 public charity. This foundation is an independent body, not associated with any particular Imperial Court or the Court Council.
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Jose’s legacy reaches across the LGBTQ+ community in many ways most don’t realize. Here are a just a few organizations / events that help remind us all of who he was and link back to additional information about Jose. Learn More…

Masters of Drag: Features Jose Sarria

The acclaimed PBS series American Masters shines a light legendary drag performers with the new series Masters of Drag. We worked with the producers of the series to provide archival photos and history to make this very special episode a reality. We hope you enjoy it....

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Our beloved Mama Jose, lived a storied life and her impact on the GLBT community was sure to be captured on film.

Nelly Queen: The Life & Times of Jose Sarria

When San Fransisco city officials vowed to shut down all gay bars in 1961, the 38-year-old female impersonator threw caution to the wind and campaigned for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. Sarria lost the election, but garnered nearly 6,000 votes, proving for the first time in American politics that the LGBTQ community had a voting bloc.


Why is it called “Nelly Queen: The life & Times of Jose Sarria?”

From 1950-1963, Sarria stood in bright red heels on tabletops at the Black Cat Cafe in San Fransisco to sing torch songs accompanied by a honky-tonk piano. Whenever the vice squad entered the cafe to entrap patrons, Sarria exposed them by encouraging patrons to stand up and sing “God, Save Us Nelly Queens,” a takeoff on Britain’s national anthem as the vice marched out of the cafe.

50 Years of Fabulous

50 YEARS OF FABULOUS recounts the rich history of the Imperial Council, the oldest LGBT charity organization in the world. Founded in San Francisco by renowned activist, drag queen, and performer Jose Sarria, the Council has helped shape LGBT life and social history in San Francisco and beyond throughout the last five decades. Sarria was also the first openly gay man to run for political office in the United States in 1961.

From its genesis as a critical public space for the community and capacity building of LGBT San Franciscans to its vital role in the advocacy for LGBT human rights, 50 YEARS OF FABULOUS documents the full scope of the organization’s historical evolution up to its contemporary struggle in finding relevance — both in the wake of social progress it has helped foster and in light of a newly empowered political coalition committed to rolling back a half-century of civil rights achievements.

Jose Sarria stamp 2021

Jose Sarria Stamp

The groups behind the successful Harvey Milk stamp have launched a campaign to create stamps honoring three legendary LGBTQ+ heroes… Jose Sarria, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson. We applaud the efforts of the National LGBTQ+ Task Force and the International Court Council and urge you to support this effort.

How can you help? Please Write To:

Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee
C/O Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300,
Washington, DC 20260-3501