for Imperial Court titles
by Peter Hernandez
A leather-clad porn star, a transgender former empress of Nebraska, and a drag queen best known for her "Barbie Girl" routine sprawled down Castro Street with gyrating and raucous supporters seeking to sway undecided voters.
It was Saturday, February 16 and voting day for the top Imperial Court titles had arrived. The three candidates – one for emperor and two for empress – made a splash in the gay neighborhood.
As the unopposed bicep-flexing candidate for emperor Drew Cutler and his supporters distributed promotional cards, drag queen Patty McGroin and trans woman Danielle Logan were engaged in a more combative race of charm and charisma for the title of the 48th empress of the historic San Francisco Imperial Council, which raises funds for other nonprofits.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
"I voted for Patty because she's cuter," said a woman named L.J. while exiting the Castro Muni station, where votes were submitted by pen and pencil.
Last Saturday's voting day resembled a cross between a lively Castro summer weekend and a battle of zeal and spirit. The candidates flexed their image and character more than their ideas or motivations, and couldn't muster many particulars about fundraising or ability. Polling places were also in the Tenderloin and South of Market.
"I want to repair the bridges that have been broken," Logan, 51, said of her intent to forge connections for transgender people. She was transitioning during her 1988 campaign for Nebraska's Imperial Council amid a disapproving social climate.
Such opposition to a trans candidate apparently persists today in San Francisco. Logan said that a former empress who now lives in Palm Springs called in his disapproval to the Imperial Council, suggesting that a drag queen is entitled to the role of empress rather than a transgender woman, even though the Imperial Council mandates that it "represent all aspects of the LGBT and other minority communities."
Empress XXV Marlena, who owns the eponymous bar on Hayes Street (although it will soon be turned over to new owners), and is royalty among the San Francisco Imperial Council set, said he is aware of the transphobic remark and added that another former empress who lives in San Francisco posted a disapproving and controversial Facebook post.
"Let it rest, let it die," Marlena, 74, said of the comments. He called for more positive energy and more political engagement among this year's candidates.
San Francisco Imperial Council Chair Frank Fernandez said the Imperial Council has an anti-discrimination policy that it adheres to, in conjunction with its partner, the International Court Council.
"I, as the chairperson of the Imperial Council, have not received any formal written complaints nor was I witness to any of the referenced exchanges," Fernandez said in an email response to questions. "Any verified exchange that violated our anti-discrimination policy would be a serious situation requiring appropriate action."
He went on to say the Imperial Council of San Francisco "has a long tradition of honoring and abiding by the policy."
"We are very proud this year that we have a transgender woman running for one of our highest titles," Fernandez added.
Logan's campaign was built on fostering diversity. She donated a transgender flag to the Imperial Council, the first it has received. Wearing a purple gown to signify strength with silver sequins to symbolize glamor, Logan said she wants to restore the council's regality.
Danielle Bicknell, 26, voted for Logan because of their shared names, but didn't know any of Logan's values or goals. Bicknell, who was walking with her 14-year-old sister, has lived in the Castro for a year and considers voting "a great civic duty."
Another voter Mike Milazzo, 39, didn't know much about candidates and also mistook Logan as potentially the first transgender empress, though she would be second if she wins. (Empress XXVIII Jackie Reynolds was transgender, Marlena said.) He admitted he needed to further research the candidates.
McGroin, 31, held a beer bust earlier this month at the Mix to promote her candidacy and to raise funds for St. Aiden's Food Pantry, which would be a beneficiary if she's elected empress. She wants to raise $78,000 to benefit Wildlife Rescue and St. Anthony Foundation through events and networking, but couldn't specify from whom that money would be generated.
Rene Sedivy, 42, said McGroin is interested in recruiting more volunteers for Castro Community on Patrol, which has seen a decline in volunteers while robberies have been on the rise in the Castro. As has been reported, Sedivy was repeatedly pistol-whipped while being carjacked last year.
Alone at the top
The sole candidate for emperor, Cutler, 38, is a former regional manager of Sunglass Hut and a prolific leather porn star who now works as a freelance performer. His Twitter page features him in a leather harness and his promotional cards show his pants unzipped. He has lived in San Francisco for two and a half years.
His porn career led him to understand the potent effect he has on others and spurred his campaign, which he says will help bridge the divide between drag queens, the leather community, and bears, among others in the LGBT community.
During an interview outside the Edge, an array of men commended his new title.
"I have a lot of powerful people in the circle that surrounds me," Cutler said.
The Coronation will be held on Saturday, February 23, at 6 p.m. at the Galleria Design Center, where the empress winner will be announced and who, along with the emperor, will stage a performance. Tickets are $65. For more information, visit http://www.imperialcouncilsf.org.