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San Francisco supervisors back drag stamps campaign

Assistant Editor

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.  

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has thrown its weight behind a campaign seeking the U.S. Postal Service to issue stamps honoring three deceased drag icons who have become heroic figures within the LGBTQ community. It is the first elected body to officially endorse the postage effort.

At its meeting October 27 during the last week of LGBTQ History Month, the board unanimously adopted a resolution authored by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman 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 voted 11-0 on the resolution without any discussion.

"Representation and visibility of LGBTQ people, and of queer people of color in particular, is more important than ever. José Sarria, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were giants in the LGBTQ rights movement and are certainly deserving of joining Harvey Milk on USPS stamps," Mandelman told the Bay Area Reporter following his resolution's adoption. "I'm glad that the Board of Supervisors has joined many others in calling for this deserved recognition for these LGBTQ heroes."

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.

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 noted 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 B.A.R. 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.

"San Francisco is taking the lead on this, as the board is the first elected government body to support it," said Murray Ramirez, as the appointed San Diego Human Relations Commission is the only other body to vote in support of the state campaign. "I think José is smiling down at the board and we are all very grateful, especially for the leadership of Supervisor Mandelman."

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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