Work the throne: Interviews with the San Francisco Empress 2011 candidates

Monistat, left, and Saybeline are running for the charitable crown

Update: Saybeline has been crowned the new Empress. Congratulations to both the outstanding candidates, and warm wishes for the future.

In this week's Super Ego column in the paper, I give a grateful nod to our esteemed - if little acknowledged -- Imperial Court system, an incredible, drag-based 45-year-old institution that raises tens of thousands of dollars for charitable Bay Area causes. (Really, do yourself a historical favor and check out the recently revamped Imperial website.) Below are my full interviews with the candidates, Saybeline and Monistat.

The annual elections for Empress of San Francisco are coming fast upon us (Sat/19, free. Noon–7 p.m. at Castro Muni Station, Castro and Market, and 11 a.m.–6 p.m. at Project Open Hand, 730 Polk, SF.) The winner will devote the next year of her life to raising funds and repping SF -- after she graciously endures a daylong coronation ceremony on Sat/26, one of the city's true mind-blowing spectacles. (The winner will be announced at Coronation.)

I emailed a series of questions to both candidates in order to get a better sense of who they are and why we should vote for them. They each bring a different, welcome perspective to the competition that ultimately helps refresh this cherished local tradition.

SFBG  What is your Empress platform?

MONISTAT My mission to become Empress is to bridge communities together. We all know that Marlena's [Bar in Hayes Valley] is the seat of power for the Imperial Court of San Francisco, and I being the outsider candidate promise to outreach to the members of this community. As Empress, I will be the Empress of San Francisco, not just the Castro, but the entire city. There are so many great facets of this town, and so much talent that I can use at my disposal to do some really good work! Being part of an amazing club scene in this town, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the best promoters, DJs, performance artists, and venues, so why not refresh their eyes and give them something a little different.

SAYBELINE First and foremost, I offer an experienced continued commitment to service in our community. Additionally, I offer a continued commitment to honoring the 45-year history and traditions of the Imperial Council of San Francisco and the many Empresses and Emperors that have paved the way for many like myself, making a difference and serving in our community. Most importantly, my motivation comes from wishing to take on an expanded leadership role spearheading much needed grass roots community fundraising for our local network of diverse community based charitable organizations struggling to make ends meet.

I have actively been involved (both as a gay man and the persona of Saybeline Fernandez) in some way serving the LGBT community of San Francisco for over two decades. In those 20-plus years, I have giving my own money and served the community volunteering on the front lines for our LGBT political and human rights causes, volunteering for HIV/AIDS support services, services for our LGBT youth and services for our marginalized diverse communities. Additionally, I have lent my professional experience in event-planning to many fundraising events that have raised thousands of dollars and awareness, supporting and serving San Francisco. I also feel that one of the biggest differences in this campaign is that I have the ability and experience to energize and engage younger members of our community to become more actively involved in serving the community.

SFBG What would your first act as Empress be?

MONISTAT OMG Coronation is usually six hours long, and ends at midnight with the crowning of the new Empress. Its a long-held tradition. But of course win or lose, I'll be out that night after the ball partying my brains out, to thank myself for finishing this amazing campaign. I will probably never sleep that night if I win, because usually I have to cart myself to all the bars that have sponsored me with the crown on my head, then have to be up and ready by 7am to go the Emperor Norton's Cemetery all the way in Colma, in full mourning drag, with a veil on and everything (I secretly love all this pomp and circumstance). Then after a round of partying for three more days, I have to get working on my official Investiture, which naturally will be a fundraiser.

SAYBELINE This is easy for me. It's sooo important to me that we get more younger members of our community actively involved in serving our community.... So many want to be involved but don't know how. We have to open the doors, and engage and encourage them to have a greater presence in being of service.

SFBG How long have you wanted to be Empress?

MONISTAT What a loaded question. I believe that every queen is royalty and should be treated that way. The title of Empress just means you have to be in drag more than everyone else. I went to coronation last year. I've never won a title in my entire my life -- all of my friends have kind of created their own niches and scenes in the city, so I thought, "Hey, why not do something my friends will never do?" So after talking to my closest pals, I decided to go for it and take the bull by the horns. Trust me, running for Empress is harder than most people think.. and it has taught me a lot of lessons about myself and growing up. It's incredibly challenging to be put under a microscope 24/7 when everyone is watching you and every mistake you make is blown up 20,000 percent.

SAYBELINE I have been actively involved with the Imperial Council of San Francisco for a little over five years. And the thought of becoming Empress first crossed my mind some three years ago. As much as I may have wanted to run in previous years, I knew it was important to gain more experience within the court of San Francisco and the International Court System. Being Empress means both making a large personal financial committment and an expanded committment of one's personal time. One has to have both in place in order to be successful. And after planning and getting things in order personally, the timing was finally right for me to throw my hat in and become a candidate and with the support of our community hopefully become the next elected Empress.

SFBG In one sentence, why should we vote for you as empress?

MONISTAT I'm young -- my youthful energy combined with fresh ideas and the willingness to learn, plus my hands-on approach to things, is the perfect cure to a traditional court that needs to be shaken up a bit. My experience as a club promoter and my connections in this city will make for a great year as Empress. the Imperial Court is nearing its 50th year, there is need for new blood. I'm that queen. Oh yeah, I was also voted Best Drag Queen by the readers of SF Bay Guardian, enough said.

SAYBELINE A vote for Saybeline Fernandez is a vote for someone that offers leadership and experience -- and someone committed to welcoming and encouraging younger members of our community to become more actively involved serving the community, raising much-needed funding for our local network of community-based charitable organizations.

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