I came to Los Angeles at the age of 19 in the search of Happiness filled with hope and ambition to begin a new life. However, what I found was homelessness, discrimination, empathy and Santa Monica Blvd (THE STRIP) of survival.
Little did I know that among us walked LGBT Royalty and that I would one day become Empress of Los Angeles and Hollywood and become Royalty myself! The Imperial Court became a safe haven for me and many other young LGBT folks.
My first experience with the Imperial Court was with “The Queen of the Universe,” a yearly fundraiser that supports LGBT folks through their Nicole Murray Ramirez scholarship fund. This pageant system, under the leadership of Empress Kamila Samala, has given transgender women a platform to advocate for and showcase our beauty and diversity.
The International Imperial Court System is second only to the Metropolitan Community Church in size and scope. Through its grassroots networks, it raises thousands of dollars for community charities and non-profits, and has fun in an annual coronation gala where new Emperor and Empress are elected.
Jose Sarria, lovingly known as “Mama” or “the Widow Norton,” founded the US Imperial Court System in 1965 in San Francisco. It was created in a time were LGBT folks were being persecuted, arrested, discriminated against and walked each day in fear of their lives. The Imperial Court created a place where LGBT folks like me could escape the tough landscape of oppression into a Dynasty of Beauty, diversity and philanthropy, where the oppressed became empowered and could be anything they wanted to be.
Guided by our lovely Mama Jose, the Court became fierce groups of volunteer fundraisers that were led by an elected Empress and Emperor. Soon this society would influence politics and fuel the fight for many of the equal rights we have today.
I learned empowerment as the daughter to fierce advocate Empress Karina Samala (23,24,30 and 42) and winning the title of “Queen of the USA” in 2004 and “Queen Universe 2013.”
The imperial Court of Los Angeles and Hollywood was founded the year I was born— 1970—and has been one of the most enduring and dynamic organizations in Los Angeles County. The Court’s Mission is to further relationships with organizations and business within our community, to raise money for charitable organizations, and to help those who are in need.
I come from a long line of Monarchs that have made tremendous contributions to local efforts to move the LGBT community forward. I serve as Empress, along with Emperor David Quinte (7,46,47) and Emperor Edward Stanza (46). The Board of Directors is composed of past monarchs and other volunteers who meet monthly to set the Court’s agenda for the year.
During the 47 years of the Imperial Court of Los Angeles and Hollywood coronations, we have seen monarchs from across the country represent their chapters in lavish gowns and participation in our local charity efforts. In my almost two years as Empress, I have been fortunate to have many of our community organizations stand with us in the fight for social justice including: CSW, APAIT, TransLatin@ Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union and many others.
Every year the Imperial Court of Los Angeles and Hollywood sets its priorities on communities they will focus on and raise funds for. During our first meeting as Monarchs, we decided to focus on one of the most oppressed communities within the LGBT spectrum: our transgender population, especially transgender women of color who continue to carry a high burden of HIV, discrimination, homelessness and lack the basic needs that many of us take for granted. Transgender women also continue to be victims of vicious hate crimes across the globe.
As a transgender woman of color, the Court has given me a platform to focus on issues that disproportionally affect my community and allow me to contribute to making a difference, alongside the board of directors and Emperors David and Edward who have a deep understanding of the challenges the trans community continues to face.
For instance, The Imperial Court of Los Angeles and Hollywood raised money for the TransLatin@ Coalition Drop in Center that provides a safe space for transgender individuals daily and serves lunch Monday through Friday (from 12:pm to 2 pm). We’ve also supported efforts like the Midnight Stroll where we did outreach for the homeless, passing out food and resources to those most in need.
In an era where technology dominates the way we think and communicate with one another, The Imperial Court continues to provide a safe space were LGBT individuals can be celebrated—while dressing fabulously and lip-synching to your favorite song and twirling for charity.
You are invited to come to this year’s Coronation XLVII, with a special tribute to “Some Like it Hot” on Nov. 24, 25, 26 held at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, 2035 N. Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068. For further information, go to our Facebook page or contact Emperor Edward Stanza at Edwardstanza@yahoo.com
— Maria Louise Roman is a Housing Specialist at APAIT.