ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — José Julio Sarria, a gay rights activist and likely the first openly gay person in the U.S. to run for public office, died Aug. 19 in his Los Ranchos home of adrenal cancer. He was 90.
He was born in 1922 in San Francisco and served in the U.S. Army in World War II, rising to the rank of staff sergeant before his discharge in 1945.
In the 1950s, he worked as a waiter and performer at a historic gay bar in San Francisco, the Black Cat Cafe, until it closed in the 1960s, according to online reports.
He also performed in drag, putting on one-person operas that he staged at the Black Cat and declaring himself “Empress Jose I, The Widow Norton” after winning a drag queen competition at the Tavern Guild’s Beaux Arts Ball, according to an obituary of Sarria on the website of The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).