A makeshift court of royal ambassadors is gathered around an ashtray outside the Renaissance Denver Hotel. Empresses, princesses and other dignitaries with Adam’s Apples as pronounced as their crowns are sucking down cigarettes during the first intermission of the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire’s 40th Annual Coronation.
The Lady Ambrosia, the reigning princess of Portland, escorted by Emperor 38 Athens Scities, dashes inside and makes her way down the escalator. It’s their turn to present Denver’s reigning monarchy – Emperor and Empress 39 Ken Bazzan and Martini Monroe – with benefactions and well wishes from the West Coast.
Bazzan and Monroe are a top a throne in a ballroom holding more than 300 guests. At there side are Prince and Princess Royale 39 Caeri Mancini and Melissa Roberts. There are four decades of royalty floating in and out of the room.
The Black and Gold Bangle Tiger Emperor and the Golden White Snow Empress of Olympia, Washington are announced. As they glide toward the monarchy they stop and curtsey to Queen Mother of the Americas and Executive Director of the International Court Council Nicole Ramirez.
A spectator leans in, “Tonight is about what everyone wants: validation.”
To a point. But to understand the Court and the greater circuit that is ruled by Nicole, as she is called affectionately by her heirs apparent – you need to look past the cakes of makeup, crown jewels and sass (plenty of sass) and stick around until 11:30 p.m. for the grand finale.
In 2015, the International Court System, the governing body of organizations like the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire, will celebrate its 50th year. Started by San Francisco’s Emperor I Jose Juilio Sarria, a World War II veteran, courts are registered nonprofits or foundations that raise money explicitly to redistribute it to other nonprofits and community members as grants and scholarships.
“These are the people who built the community,” Ramirez told me. “Before there were corporate sponsorships for Pride, there was the Court.”
Legend has it: Empress XI Christi Layne Elizabeth requested the first permit for a Pride march down Colfax Avenue. And it was she who pleaded with a governor’s aide to ask Colorado’s highest executive to intervene when Denver’s Police Department threatened to forbid the gay community’s public display of their collective First Amendment.
True, false or embellished: The Court has been there every step of the way. As The Court celebrates its 40th anniversary, so does the community at large.
The Court was – and still is – there to raise money for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado, Colorado AIDS Project and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
During the past three years, according to tax documents, The Court has given out more than $100,000 in grants and scholarships to organizations like Horizon House, an AIDS hospice, PAWS, a shelter that places animals with elders and persons living with disabilities, and Colin Elstob, a student at Otero Junior College.
“You just hope you leave the community – and The Court – a better place then how you found it,” said Empress 35 Jackie Summers.
The Court, like any other organization, is not without its fair share of scandals and innuendo – big and small. In fact, before my weekend at coronation, my only impressions of the monarchs were formed entirely from beer bust hearsay.
But, “regardless of the image,” Sasha Andrews, the reining Miss Gay Pride of All Colorado, tells me, “The Court still does good work.”
God’s work, according to Ramirez.
“It’s in our DNA to giveback,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if a queen raises $5,000 or $100,000, because it all makes a difference.”
As Act III of coronation comes to a close, the College of Monarchs assembles to anoint the next reign. At least three dozen, every former emperor and empress of The Court in attendance takes the stage. Among them are Empress II Scotti Carlyle, Emperor V Bill Olson, Emperor 13 Chuck Bates, Empress 23 and 24 Sydney Andrews and Nina Montaldo, respectively.
It is an impermeable wall of legacy and linage. It is a symbol of unwavering support to the new Emperor and Empress 40 Chase Whitmore and LuSush La’Rell – “we’ve got your back.”
It’s easy to dismiss a lone drag queen as a clown – a boy in a dress.
But when local legends – men and women – who have collectively raised millions of dollars stand before you as a singular force, it is no surprise that an organization that began during an era of reparative shock therapy, and later suffered under harassment and false arrest from their local police department, and after an entire generation of leaders died from a silent plague, still stands today.
“Our royalty was created by the rejected and the unaccepted,” Ramirez said.
I call it good pedigree.
For more info on the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire, visit DenverCourt.org.