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Campaign will seek US postal stamps for trio of drag icons

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A campaign will seek postage stamps for drag icons Marsha P. Johnson, José Julio Sarria, and Sylvia Rivera. Photos: Frameline, Rick Gerharter, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
A campaign will seek postage stamps for drag icons Marsha P. Johnson, José Julio Sarria, and Sylvia Rivera. Photos: Frameline, Rick Gerharter, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.   

A campaign will launch in August seeking to see the U.S. Postal Service issue stamps honoring three deceased drag icons who have become heroic figures within the LGBTQ community. Under the rules for issuing commemorative stamps, the soonest the trio could be honored with their own postage would likely be in 2024.

The national effort will press for the federal agency to create postage featuring Jose Julio Sarria, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera. They would be the first such stamps issued in honor of drag performers.

Sarria, who died in 2013 at the age of 90, was a legendary San Francisco-based drag queen who founded the Imperial Court in 1965. The Latino Army veteran had made history four years prior as the first out gay person to seek elective office in the U.S. with his ultimately unsuccessful bid for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Rivera, who died in 2002 at the age of 50, and Johnson, who died in 1992 at the age of 46, both were drag performers and prominent participants in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. They would go on to become beloved vocal advocates for gay and transgender issues up until their deaths.

Johnson, who was Black, and Rivera, the child of a Puerto Rican father and Venezuelan mother, co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries to provide support to poor young people in New York City who were shunned by their families, as the New York Times noted in a story last year about city officials planning to install a monument featuring the close friends not far from the Stonewall Inn.

Six years ago the U.S. Postal Service released the first stamp to honor an American for their role in the fight for LGBT rights, which featured the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. This week, the agency issued the first stamps to feature images of drag by including two depictions of the cartoon character Bugs Bunny in women's clothing.

It was the Bay Area Reporter's coverage of the Bugs Bunny stamps, part of a special pane of 20 stamps commemorating the animated rabbit's 80th birthday that prompted San Diego resident Nicole Murray Ramirez to decide to launch the campaign for stamps honoring Sarria, Johnson, and Rivera.

Murray Ramirez chaired the national Milk stamp campaign and, since 2014, has also led the effort to honor the late Black gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin with his own stamp.

Asked about the Bugs Bunny stamps, Murray Ramirez replied, "While this is a 'cute' move by the National Stamp Commission and US Postal Dept. we look forward to stamps in honor of true drag queens//TRANS hero's like Jose Julio Sarria, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson."

Following the publication of the B.A.R.'s story, the International Imperial Court System announced on its Facebook page Thursday that Murray Ramirez would officially announce the stamp campaign for the trio of drag icons next week. Known as the Queen Mother I of the Americas and Nicole the Great within the Imperial Court System, Murray Ramirez leads the philanthropic organization within the drag community.

"An official announcement of the national campaign to honor these drag queens/ transgender American heroes with a stamp will be announced next week," stated the post.

Murray Ramirez told the B.A.R. that signing on as honorary national co-chairs of the postage campaign are Judy and Dennis Sheppard, the parents of Matthew Sheppard, a gay Wyoming college student whose death in 1998 stunned the country and led to the passage of federal hate crimes legislation that covered sexual orientation.

The U.S. Postal Services' Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee recommends ideas for the commemorative stamps that the agency releases each year. It is then up to the U.S. postmaster general to make a final determination.

According to the committee's website, ideas for stamp subjects should be received at least three or more years prior to the proposed issuance year. Only deceased individuals are eligible to be featured on a stamp, and they can't be honored in such a manner until three years following their death.

The approval process for new stamps "takes about three years but the timing can vary," noted postal service spokeswoman Mauresa R. Pittman in an emailed reply July 31.

If the committee decides not to recommend a subject for issuance as a stamp, the proposal can be submitted again for reconsideration following a three-year interval, according to its stamp selection process rules.

"The Postal Service will honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment," states the committee.

UPDATED 7/31/2020 with a comment from the postal service's spokeswoman.

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