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.


I say instead of voting, which in this scene tends to be dominated by who hast he most friends (not necessarily by who is the best choice) I think the competitors should be crowned based on how much they can bring in. They should create some events, and the highest raiser gets crowned! This way its not about whos most popular......but who actually gets the most results! That being said Ive never heard of Saybelline, but Ive seen Monistat perform a few times.

Posted by Shekinah Love on Feb. 28, 2011 @ 4:36 am

I think this is all very funny that people are scared as it shows that Monistat and or Saybeline will lose. Every comment on them is childish and ridiculious. Everyone is forgetting the purpose of this role in the community, to raise funds for the less fortunate and needed organizations.
There are four good candidates and who to vote for is an individual choice. Let the people choose without these stupid remarks trying to defend one over the other. You all look like idiots and I am sure the candidates do not want anything to do with being in the drama.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

We agree with you on this. After reading the posts, and not knowing either candidate, we will be voting for Saybeline. The people posting for the vaginal cream are only hurting her by their comments.

Posted by Sammy and Damian on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

For those that want to claim Monistat has no knowledge or experience,you are quite frankly full of it and have NEVER spoken to her.
She knows facts about the court and the past imperials that even some of the newer members are not fully aware of.
That said, lets get back to the answers.

If think for one miniscule second that Mr. and Ms. Fernandez will NOT be partying in the event they are elected then you are in fact lying
Where does Monistat say she will be on any chemicals??

She states a fact that most winners do not sleep the first weekend very much because the Coronation DOES in fact go very long due to the support for the mother court and all that attend. After the event, everyone goes to their respective bars to show support for being elected.
The past Empress Donna Sachet graciously opens her doors for the newly elected imperials and that party is a celebration that continues into the wee hours as well.
On Sunday it is another COURT day, and again on Monday it is a COURT party. That is two days and one night of parties that Mr AND Ms Fernandez will be part of if either are elected.

Philip Beers

Posted by Philip on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 7:42 am

The common pattern to all these comments is very few supporting Saybeline have actually entered their name. All they have said is Monistat isnt ready and Saybeline is. Here is the truth and why I back Monistat 100%.

First, if you are familiar with the courts, they have been focused on the same areas of the city. Hayes Valley and Castro. Dont get me wrong, I love my Castro bars, and Marlenas is the home for my Hayes Valley Leather title.

With that said, Monistat has been raising money and producing events for years (Ive personally known her about 5). She knows her s***.

Second, its not about electing a drag queen for Empress. Its about electing someone who will represent San Francisco. All of it!

Monistat through this entire campaign so far has been real, and kept true to who she is. There is no fake, there is no "Im at the event to be seen" and when she supports you, its 100%.

As mentioned above, she has the ability to bring freshness to the court system which is overdue and needed. It has been year after year of the same ole same ole. Sure some people buy into it, but lets get this back to its roots and make it what it was supposed to be.

Clearly Signed
Desmond Perrotto

Posted by Desmond on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 4:58 am

I have read, and re-read the interview. It is obvious that every response Saybeline gave was what has been said time and time again, for 45 years now. Those responses worked 20 years ago, but they don't work today. My one big question is this - how does one plan to bring in the younger generation when they see a dysfunctional organization with another Empress that is the same as the one before her and the one five years before that. Cookie cutter monarchs are a dime a dozen and they have lackluster years.

It is time to go against "tradition" and get back to the real heart of the Imperial Court System - to have fun. Jose Saria said it herself, "I don't like how things are going these days. It is too political and there is too much fighting. This used to be so much fun."

A vote for Saybeline is a vote for the same old, conformist monarch who will be out of town to be seen than in town to work. A vote for Monistat is a vote for someone who CAN bring new life and new vitality to an organization that has needed new blood for years. Without the new and the fun, the organization might as well go away.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 2:24 am

I've been going out for years in the Castro but mostly in SOMA. I run a nonprofit and I've been to tons of fundraisers. That said, I've never heard of Saybeline. Maybe because she only goes to Marlena's, and I've only ever been in that bar once. Regardless, Monistat is the only drag queen I know in recent history (with the possible exceptions of Cookie Dough and Suppositori Spelling) that have tried to do anything NEW in this town (with respect to drag). She gave me my first chance to DJ; she believed in me, even when I didn't have the skills yet. We owe her a lot, and I think she'd be GREAT for Empress. Besides, with Lee and Quan in office, I think 2011 is the year of high powered Asians in power. Go girl! = )

Posted by Guest on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 12:50 am

Having been a drag performer here in SF since 1993, I have seen queens come and go. Monistat is here to stay. And she's willing to put a whole lot of creative energy into a job that needs someone with vision, spunk and talent.

It is with great pride that I say that I'll be voting FOR Monistat on Saturday. I encourage everyone to do the same.

Posted by GuestTrauma Flintstone on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 12:29 am

I will be voting for Saybeline. I don't think I need to spell out why, as Monistat did that for herself.
Also, Monistat was voted best drag queen? I'm guessing that was solely based on name. I'll never forget a performance I caught at Trannyshack when she was too trashed to give a good show. Too bad.

Posted by bean on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

First of all, you do need to spell it out. If people are reading your words they do need to know whats behind them. Its obvious to me you are in support of Saybeline, but tell us why in your convictions you are voting that way?

Second, you have to give Monistat credit for knowing drag. Have you actually seen her perform? In this campaign, and at any campaign event that she has performed at, she has knocked the socks off people in comparison.

Did you see her number at Gala? Think before you speak and if you cant back up your words, then to those of us who are watching, it leaves no credibility.

Posted by Desmond on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 4:20 am

Saybeline vs. Monistat
This is a simple decision. After reading what the two candidates have replied to the questions. Saybeline is well spoken, can follow directions (the one sentence question, was for one sentence,) and has the ability to survive the democracy of the Imperial Court. Monistat has no experience, and is lacking the basic skills to follow direction and articulate positivity. If you want to party animal, that seems to up for 3 days (on what chemicals?) then by all means vote for Monistat. Saybeline has wooed me and many others. See you at the voting polls!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

WOW!!! After Reading the comments of both candidates it's clear that only Saybeline is in this race for the right reasons, Every year I have watched the Imperial campaign season and this year will be the first time I cast a vote and after reading the responses of the candidates my vote will be cast for Saybeline.

The San Francisco Imperial Court is the Mother Court of the International Court System well entrenched with honor and traditions of raising millions for those in need. And Monistat is kidding herself and others if she thinks she will change the honor and traditions that the court has shared and giving to San Francisco for over 45 years. Perhaps this is one of those lessons she needs to learn.

Monistat may be a great entertainer, but her youth and lack of any experience other than self promotion lends itself to suspect of her motivations in wanting to run for Empress. She's right that being Empress of San Francisco is a big deal, It's not a game, this comunity needs an Empress that isn't in it for the crown and the partying for days on end. Thank you Monistat for helping this reader see your true colors, perhaps some growing up is in deed in order on your part.

To Saybeline, you have this reader's vote. Thank you for the 20 plus years that you have dedicated to serving the community of San Francisco. I am honored to cast my 1st Imperial campaign vote for you in recognition of your dedication and committment to our community.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

Did you catch the facebook posting to her team giving them words of encouragement and telling them to hold their head up and "keep their eye on the prize"? Does that really scream "the right reason". Its pretty clear the right reason for some is just winning the title. For others its community, bringing all of San Francisco together. Go Monistat.

Posted by Desmond on Feb. 17, 2011 @ 8:08 am

Saybeline has Leadership, Monistat has NONE
Saybeline has Experience, Monistat has NONE
Saybeline has knowledge, Monistat has NONE
Saybeline has raised money, Monistat has well raised it then spent it!

Can you see a pattern? Saybleine is ready.......MONISTAT is NOT!

Vote for Saybeline all the way baby! This community needs a dedicated candidate not a drunk!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

I must say that from the responses to the questions asked I will be voting for this SAYBELINE (Sorry thought I would copy others) ha! I have lived in the Castro and have seen this voting every year and finally getting into it.The comment from the other one saying she would party for three days? Are you kidding me? Is this a run for yourself to get a crown and then have a "Fiesta" to yourself or with others when there are organizations suffering. GO SAYBLEINE GIRL! - YOU GOT MY VOTE!!!

Castro Resident & Saybeline Voter!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

I love SAYBELINE! I am one of the "young queens" in SF and she has been someone who has supported me since the first day I met her...

I've been to numerous Imperial and Ducal court functions as a well as several fundraisers in the city and she has always been to everyone one. THAT is true dedication to the court system and the charity based programs they provide!!!

I enjoy the Imperial Court!!! old school, new school its all about being a part of a great community which helps the less fortunate... SAYBELINE IS not only a part of the community, THE COMMUNITY is part of SAYBELINE... If you are "bored" of the court system!!! GO watch Ru Paul's Drag Race... If you want to PARTY!!! theres plenty or events and shows in the city...

If you want to change lives and be apart of a family thats been supporting and helping out the community for years,, VOTE FOR SAYBELINE!!!!

Anya and you bet the WHOLE TEA HAUS for SAYBELINE


Posted by Anya Munro on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

It seems as if Monistat has nothing to offer BUT her club/nightlife experience. I was under the impression that fundraising is a 24/7 event, not just an event associated with bars and booze. (that could also be b/c she's very young) The very question of the "first thing to do as empress" was answered by "partying for 3 days straight". This tells me that her "growing up and learning lessons" still has some "growing and learning" to go.

She definitely has the talent and potential, but it may be a few years before she learns to harness it. I do not foresee Empress in her future for this year, but perhaps certainly in the near future of years to come.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 3:37 pm


Having worked directly with Saybeline over the course of the last few years on fundraisers and projects as Mr. Gay SF, Mr. Bay Area Rodeo, and now as Mr. Golden State Rodeo, I can say that Saybeline has a great track record and passion for bring folks together for the sake of any good cause.

I have found her dedication and commitment to the community to be impressive as I’ve seen her hit 2,3, and up to 4 events in one afternoon, sometimes even dragging herself out of her sick bed to lend a hand and show support.

She lights up a room nobody else because she is down to earth and gives directly from her heart.

I am proud to support Saybeline and call her a friend!

I expect that she will do great things this year - for me, for you, and the rest of the community.

Please come out and bring your friends and family from SF, Marin, and San Mateo to vote Saybeline for Empress on Saturday – she WILL make a Difference!

Posted by John Paul Soto on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

I have known SAYBELINE for years now and I could not imagine anyone else that would be more suitable for this position. She has continued to raise money for the community in and out of drag for two decades. She has fresh ideas and has raised over $3,200 in just weeks during her campaign. Can you only imagine what she would be able to continue to do as Empress of San Francisco. Not only that but she has reached out to organizations not only in San Francisco but on the Peninsula as well. She is WELL respected in the community as well. Some of the many nonprofits and charitable organizations Saybeline proudly supports and has participated in raising funding for includes: AIDS Emergency Fund, Equality California, Visual Aid, Under One Roof, San Francisco Food Bank, St. Aidan's Food Pantry, SF Night Ministries, Asian Pacific Islanders Wellness Center, Sunburst Projects, Magnet, Positive Resource Center, LYRIC, the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association-Bay Area Chapter and many more.


VOTE FOR HER on 2/19/11!!!
Find her on FB: SF Saybeline

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

I have to say that I have yet to see a person work as hard at raising money for our community as Saybeline, even way before the campaign. Trust me, I love clubbing and partying as much as the next person but if you look at the people who contribute most to our community, it is the local establishments such as The Mix and Aunt Charlie's that really cater to the local crowd and not all of the flocking tourists. The events that places like these hold are the real source of charitable contributions and Saybeline holds many of them there.

I'm also all about shaking up the existing Imperial Court system, but it takes planning, coordinating, and well-thought out ideas. I know Saybeline will offer this to the Court!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

All I can really say is.... if I have to see one more "typical" drag queen, doing the same thing over and over again, I am going to fall over from board-um. When it comes down to it Monistat may not have been around all that long, but man is she ever one creative, energetic queen.

This whole "voting" thing seems kinda silly... but, I will be taking 5 minutes out of my day to stop by and vote for her. I am looking forward to some new blood around the fund raising circuit in this city.

Good luck Monistat... you have my vote on Saturday.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

Both candidates will serve the community - I fully support Monistat this year because as Ms. Fernandez says, we need to bring the youth into the system and Monistat has been part of that crowd for many years and those are her friends, admirers and followers.
As Monistat says, she is a young person that is willing to take on the system that has been around for almost 50 years and give it a fresh look.

Some people criticize Monistat for not being around as long in the court, but if you look at the court and talk to some of the past Emperors and Empresses, there are many that also came out of the blue and are now some of the most respected members of the Imperial family - some have been on the board of the council and are still around supporting the current title holders and welcoming the new ones.

With Monistat as the Empress, we will have a year of new fresh ideas and many gay youth will see the court as a welcoming community rather than something that should be avoided. Monistat energy and zest for the unconventional will be a welcome breath of fresh air.
She will bring an old world style of glamour to us, while injecting energy and life into the scene.

Posted by Philip on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

Bring it home girl!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 9:33 am

I do believe it's time for new blood but mostly both ladies should be congratulated for standing up to be counted. I am on Monistat's team because I know she is a worker and is blessed with out reach skills in a less traditional more youth inviting way. Best of luck to you both. To the new reign! May you add all your energy in promoting this great tradition and keeping the true spirit alive here in SF.

Posted by Guest Anna Conda on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 9:23 am

Monistat is super talented and would seriously bring new life to SF. I have seen her around in a lot of amazing and surreal venues but I have never seen her more surreal than tending bar at Daly's Dive.

I have to give Cris Daly credit for zeroing in on SF night life talent in a way Gavin Newsom never did.

If Getty were a real businessman, which he isn't, he'd fund little dive bars on Market Street instead of the pet projects for the son of his trust manager. But he'd rather use his money subverting our political system than sparking real entrepreneural activity. We'll probably have to wait until he's dead. Vanessa is the talent in that family.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 9:04 am

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