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San Diego's Imperial Court Celebrates 45th 'Coronation'

Nicole Murray-Ramirez, right, stands next to fellow court member Roxy Bleu in front of a display honoring the International Imperial Court System, Feb. 1, 2017.
Katie Schoolov
Nicole Murray-Ramirez, right, stands next to fellow court member Roxy Bleu in front of a display honoring the International Imperial Court System, Feb. 1, 2017.

San Diego's Imperial Court Celebrates 45th 'Coronation'
The International Imperial Court System is a fraternal and charitable organization with a twist: It's ruled by drag queens. The San Diego chapter celebrates the crowning of its 45th "emperor" and "empress" on Saturday.

San Diego's oldest LB GT organization is celebrating a milestone. The empirical court of San Diego was founded in 1973 by a group of gay men, lesbians and dry cleaned. Every year the court has crowned a new Emperor and Empress. This Saturday will be the 45th coronation. Andrew take a look at one of San Diego's most flamboyant charities. How long does it take? It takes me an hour to do the makeup. Spectacle -- Nicole Murray-Ramirez is putting on the vinyl touches of band level. Luck. Are ready? Be comfortable. Sheet lists the bottom of her down to host revealed black pants and foam system -- slippers. Who would go under the down? The official title is Empress Nicole the great, Queen of the America. Nicole is a gay man but uses the email pronoun which she is in drag. She is the highest ranking member of the court system, the oldest LGBT organization. She is a cofounder of the San Diego chapter. I met Nicole Murray-Ramirez in Hillcrest. She is comfortable being in charge. Why don't you sit there and use it there? Now, this is not the throne that I wanted but I will sit here. [ laughter ] Nicole Murray-Ramirez is in full attire. She has a jewel cross necklace and a black beaded down at a red and white sash and silk gloves and a black cape. There are glittery eyeshadow -- there is glittery eyeshadow. The Imperial Court is the gay Shriners of the Americas. We wear gowns and grounds. They have cars and hats that are wonderful. We all do the same thing. We raise money for charity. The court of San Diego raised more than $90,000. They do an annual Easter egg hunt for children and they donate to toys for tots. Nicole Murray-Ramirez recalls the early years when their donations were a welcome. We got a phone call and he said this is so and so with toys for tots. We did not realize you were a homosexual organization. We will not accept toys from homosexuals. I was stunned. We were shocked. The court called around and eventually found enough places to accept the donated toys. That was more than 40 years ago. A lot has changed since then. Ramirez says remembering history is reported. Aiken unity that is not what -- no working from, it does not know where it is going. It is important to remember this. Homosexuals were subjective to lobotomies and electroshock treatment. I have many -- friends that were subjected to that. A lot of times, costuming with high to you were admitted the court people had different names. For you? I am the Duke of get -- Duchess. Many organizations are bracing for a fight under the new trump administration. Ramirez says the Imperial court system is establishing a new civil right wing. They participated in the women's marches. I believe the next four years may be difficult for us. Were worried about the Supreme Court justice and the people around him and him pets the cabinet. There is always going to be a need for fundraising. I am proud that our court system has seen that this called -- the times call for organized actions. The coronation will be on Saturday.

Nicole Murray-Ramirez may look regal when she's dressed up in drag as the head of the International Imperial Court System. But as she lifts up the hem of her black beaded gown, she reveals a secret: Underneath the royal garb, she's wearing a pair of loose black pants and foam slippers.

"Be comfortable," she said at a recent gathering of court members. "Think about this: Who would go under Queen Elizabeth's dress? No one. And no one's going under mine."

The International Imperial Court System is a network of 68 local charitable organizations across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Each chapter is lead by an "emperor" and "empress," crowned each year in a coronation ceremony. The San Diego chapter celebrates its 45th coronation on Saturday.

Murray-Ramirez's official title in the court system is Empress Nicole the Great, Queen Mother I of the Americas. She's the highest-ranking member of the international court and a co-founder of the San Diego chapter (Murray-Ramirez is a gay man, but uses the female pronoun when she's in drag). She described the court system as "the gay Shriners or Elks of the Americas."

"We wear gowns and crowns, they have their little cars and their hats," she said. "But we all do the same thing, and that is we raise money for charity, nonprofits and causes."

San Diego's Imperial Court Celebrates 45th 'Coronation'

The San Diego court has raised $90,000 since its last coronation, Murray-Ramirez said. The court puts on an annual Easter egg hunt for children and participates in Toys for Tots. Murray-Ramirez recalled the court's early years in 1975 when their gifts were unwelcome.

"We were all gathered to give the toys, and they were supposed to come (pick them up)," she said. "Then we got a phone call, and they said, 'We didn't realize you were a homosexual organization. We will not accept toys from homosexuals.'"

Many organizations supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are bracing for a fight under the new administration of President Donald Trump. Murray-Ramirez said the Imperial Court is establishing a new civil rights wing, and members of courts across the country participated in the women's marches the day after the inauguration.

"Of course we're worried about this Supreme Court justice. We're worried about the people around (Trump) and the new heads of his cabinet," she said. "That being said, there's always going to be a need for fundraising. But I'm so proud our court system has seen that these times call for even more of an organized action."

The 45th coronation of the Imperial Court de San Diego takes place Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley.