Imperial Court Queen Mother: Empress Nicole

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By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter

Queen Mother of the Americas – Empress Nicole the Great is at the very top of the Imperial Court system. Empress Nicole is the Court’s Executive Director and International Spokesperson.

“I’m excited in being involved in taking the court system to the next level,” said Empress Nicole, aka Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a veteran Latino and gay rights activist and a San Diego City Commissioner. Murray-Ramirez  made city history when he was re-elected the chair of the San Diego Human Relations Commission for a fourth term. When first elected, he was the first openly gay man elected as chair.

Murray-Ramirez has served the last five mayors of San Diego, and was elected as the chair of the first mayor’s GLBT Advisory Board and the first GLBT Advisory Board to the chief of police.

Murray-Ramirez is a past national board member of the Human Rights Campaign, past national chair of LLEGO, the national chair of Stonewall 25, and the only gay activist in the country who has been elected to all four national boards of the marches on Washington, DC. He was also elected chair of the Millennium March. He is the past state chair of Equality California and is currently serving a four year term on the national board of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The International Court System is one of the oldest gay organizations in the world, with chapters in several cities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The Court was founded in 1964 by Jose Sarria, a drag queen and a political activist from San Francisco. Sarria became the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1961. Three years later, Sarria declared himself “Empress José I, The Widow Norton” and founded the Imperial Court System, which grew to become an international association of charitable organizations. He continued to reign over the Courts for 43 years, before abdicating in 2007.

Murray-Ramirez is currently in his fourth year as the head of the Court. He has been a part of the Court since 1973 and has a “deep love” for the organization, which came about at a time when there were no gay community centers in existence in California.

“Here you have a very brave organization of people who were out,” Empress Nicole said, noting the Court was “probably the best kept secret in the gay community.”

Empress Nicole is critical of the media coverage of the Court and wants people to know the organization focuses on serious issues.

“They just show the flamboyant side and they never really go into the depth and the mission of what these great people are doing,” Empress Nicole said.

“These people to me are truly unsung heroes,” Empress Nicole continued.
In 2009, members of the Court raised over $100,000 for the Matthew Shepherd Foundation. For years, the Court has addressed the issue of teen bullying and established a series of LGBT student scholarships. In addition, during what Empress Nicole referred to as the “dark days” of the AIDS epidemic, the Court established funds to help victims of the disease.

Empress Nicole is also proud of the Court’s diversity. Any attendee of one of the Court’s annual Coronation ceremonies will see the many different people which make up the organization.

“Compared to other LGBT events, we have more people of color, we have lesbian to straight to transgender, it is unbelievable how the court system reflects the Rainbow flag,” Empress Nicole said, noting that although most people believe the Court is made up of only drag queens, the truth is they only comprise a quarter of the total membership.

Empress Nicole attended the Imperial Court of Connecticut’s Annual Coronation recently to present the Annual State of the Empire Award and to discuss her goals for the International Court Council.

The International Court is also gathering support for a postage stamp honoring legendary gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. Empress Nicole has a special affection for Milk, having worked with him during the 1970s. The feeling was mutual. Milk “loved” the International Court and attended several coronations, added Empress Nicole.