The International Imperial Court System (IICS) was founded in San Francisco in 1965 by José Sarria, also known as Absolute Empress I, The Widow Norton. Sarria, now affectionately known as "Mama" or "Mama José" among Imperial Court members, devised the name "Widow Norton" as a reference to Joshua Norton, a much-celebrated citizen of 19th Century San Francisco who had declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico in 1859.
The International Imperial Court System (IICS) is one of the oldest and larges predominatly gay organizations in the world. The court raises mony for charity through large annual fancy-dress costume balls in cities throughout North America and noumerous smaller fundraisers each year. Although no official numbers are available, media outlets including the Lost Angeles Times have stated that the Imperial Court System is the second larges gay organization in the world, surpoassed only by the LGBT outreach program of the Metroplitan Community Church.
Each individual court chapter (or "realm") is a separate, legally-incorporated charitable non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for various charites and people in need within its realm. Each chapter has its own board of directors and is financially responsible for its own management. In addition to local non-profit status, many courts in the United States have Federal 501(c) status. The Imperial Court Council is a sparately-incorporated non-profit organization created to advise individual chapters and, when necessary, to grant or rescind recognition by the IICS as a whole. This group also urges a degree of consistency regarding matters of protocol via proclamations which are generally observed by all chapters. The Court system has gron to over 70 court chapters in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Each court holds an annual "Coronation" which is usually the chapter's largest fundraiser and is attended by both local people and members of the other chapters from across North America. The evening culminates in the ceremony in which the new monarch or monarchs are crowned. The method by which monarchs are selected varies from chapter to chapter, ranging from selectionby vote amon the active membership in closed session months before the coronation to elections by all in attendance on the night of the ceremony, to election by public vote.
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