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SF Supe Mandelman seeks city support for drag stamps

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A campaign is seeking 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 is seeking 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 San Francisco supervisor is seeking to have the city sign on to the campaign asking the U.S. Postal Service to issue stamps honoring three deceased drag icons who have become heroic figures within the LGBTQ community.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced a resolution at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting in support of seeing stamps featuring José Julio Sarria, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera. They would be the first such stamps issued in honor of drag performers; the board is set to vote on the resolution at its last meeting during LGBTQ History Month Tuesday, October 27.

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 and grew it into an international philanthropic drag organization. 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.

As part of its celebration of California's first 170 years as a state, the California State Library recently featured Sarria among the 170 stories it has been posting to mark the anniversary. It noted that his ninth place finish in the supervisor race made "city leaders take notice of a growing gay voting bloc."

Rivera, who died in 2002 at the age of 50, and Johnson, who died in 1992 at the age of 46, both were trans women who also performed in drag. They were prominent participants in the Stonewall uprising of 1969 who went 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.

Mandelman represents San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro district, which includes the one-block portion of 16th Street in front of the neighborhood's library that was renamed José Sarria Court. As he notes in his resolution, because of the drag trio's "historic contributions to the LGBTQ rights movement and the continuing need to increase the visibility of LGBTQ people of color in the United States, their appearance on United States Postal Service stamps would send a strong message of LGBTQ inclusion."

San Diego resident Nicole Murray Ramirez launched the campaign this summer after the Bay Area Reporter contacted him for comment about several stamps issued to commemorate the 80th birthday of Bugs Bunny depicting the animated rabbit in drag. It is believed to be the first time drag has been featured on U.S. stamps.

Known as the Queen Mother I of the Americas and Nicole the Great within the Imperial Court System, Murray Ramirez is now the titular head of the 55-year-old organization. He helped push to see the U.S. stamp that was issued in 2014 for the late gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and has signed up close to two-dozen LGBTQ leaders as honorary co-chairs of the drag stamps campaign.

The U.S. Postal Service's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee recommends ideas for commemorative stamps, but it is up to the U.S. postmaster general to make a final determination. Because it usually takes three years from the time of their selection for the commemorative stamps to be issued, the soonest the trio of drag stamps could be released is 2024.

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