Welcome NGLCCNY’s newest non-profit partner, the Imperial Court of New York (ICNY), an organization that raises awareness and funds for organizations providing educational and supportive services to the LGBT community at large. Ingrid Galvez, NGLCCNY's Diversity Outreach Chair, had an opportunity to speak with Ray DeForest, ICNY Representative at Parliament of the International Court System, to find out more about this outstanding organization.
Ingrid: Tell us, what is the Imperial Court system and how did it start?
Ray: Jose Julio Sarria, the country’s first openly gay political candidate planted the first seeds of the Imperial Court System in San Francisco in the mid-sixties, amidst political and community mayhem in an effort to unite the lesbian and gay community. In 1965, Jose, our founder, known as Empress I Jose, the Widow Norton, founded the Imperial Court System, setting our standard of humor, heart and humanitarianism, which today governs approximately 70 kingdoms in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Today the International Court System is one of the oldest LGBT organizations in the country, second only to the Metropolitan Community Church.
Ingrid: I’d love to hear more about your founder Jose Sarria.
Ray: Jose Sarria is recognized around the world as one of the pioneers of the gay and transgender movement. His legacy is part of the gay studies curriculum at The Center for LGBT studies at the City University of New York and universities around the world. Both the house representatives of California and the government of San Francisco have honored him. He passed away in 2013 and was sent off with a state’s funeral. It was attended by government representatives and covered by major media outlets. He left specific instructions for the way forward and we will continue to carry the torch for social consciousness and equality
Ingrid: So how did the Imperial Court of New York come into being and what is its mission?
Ray: The Imperial Court of New York (ICNY) was founded in 1986 and is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization that has raised over two million dollars for worthy causes since its inception. The ICNY is a “chapter” of the International Court System. We are a social, fundraising organization, which raises funds for but not limited to those supporting the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community; HIV/AIDS services organizations; social service organizations and youth enrichment programs. It seeks to provide a safe, social environment for people with the same interests as those of the membership and to create and promote positive community awareness of the ideals of the International Court System.
Ingrid: Can you tell us more about being a member?
Ray: All of our members are volunteers! No money is spent on paying anyone to do the work we do. Our members are people who have chosen to make a difference in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. Membership is broad and varied: business owners and professionals include accountants, antique dealers, attorneys, costume designers, construction, engineers, fashion designers, florists, hairdressers, jewelers, education professionals, marketers, ministers, performers, project managers and more.
Ingrid: I understand you have “Royalty” in your membership?
Ray: LOL… yes we do! The membership includes Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses, Princes and Princesses all the way up to our yearly elected monarchs, our Empress and Emperor. They all enjoy the “game” of court and royalty while raising much needed social awareness and money for deserving charities in the New York tri-state area. You enter as a Lord or a Lady and rise through the ranks as you volunteer and raise money.
Ingrid: Tell us a little more about the “Monarchs”?
Ray: The Monarchs represent the Court at dozens of events, not only our own but also those of other organizations and causes. They travel with their entourages to other kingdoms across the USA, Canada and Mexico, and dress and behave with the dignity and elegance of royalty as seen throughout the ages. We continually raise money and social awareness. It must be said here that all jewelry, travel, and dress are at the complete expense of each member’s personal purse — no money raised by the Court goes to our trinkets or travels. All funds go to the beneficiaries selected for each event.
Ingrid: I see many social network postings about your events. Can you tell us about those events and what you do at them?
Ray: Our members are dedicated to the causes and charities that are chosen by our organization. We produce 2 to 3 events each month at various locations around the NYC area. All those events raise money for different charities that need our help and amazing fund raising capabilities. Those events feature our membership and friends of the courts. We have members and friends from Broadway, the cabaret world and other performing venues. Of course our biggest event of the year is “The Night of a Thousand Gowns”.
Ingrid: Oh that sounds fun! Please tell us more.
Ray: Once a year the New York LGBT community comes together for a unique gala fund raiser--one that rises above all others for over-the-top glamour and fun! That event is The Imperial Court of New York’s Night of a Thousand Gowns Charity Gala, a black tie dinner dance and coronation ball. Night of a Thousand Gowns is more than just a dazzling display of regal glamour; it is an opportunity to celebrate the LGBT community. Last year’s event was attended by close to 1,000 people and raised a substantial amount for our beneficiaries. It is an amazing 6 hour celebration that features world-class entertainment from Broadway, the pop world and more. Last year’s event has the distinction of winning the “Best Nightlife Event” Glam Award!
This year’s event, the 28th Annual Night of A Thousand Gowns Charity Ball will be held at the Marriott Marquis in NYC on Saturday, March 29th to benefit God’s Love We Deliver and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund.
Ingrid: It sounds amazing! How can someone become a member of your organization?
Ray: Membership in The Imperial Court of New York is open to all throughout the year — we are completely and unmistakably inclusive. Our membership meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the LGBT Center at 208 West 13th Street in New York City. Why not drop by to meet some of us!
For more information about us and how to be a part of the most glamorous party in town, email us at: or
ICNY Upcoming Event
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