Meet the local non-profit organization who has been giving back to Fresno and the Central Valley for the last 45 years.
by Lisa Talley | firstname.lastname@example.org
Service. A word that describes an action, in some instances, a selfless principle – in this case, it’s a description for the driving heart of an organization. Even more, it’s the very first word in the opening statement of the preamble to their bylaws which states “Service through united action, guided by intelligence is the hallmark of this corporation.”
Last issue’s coverage of this year’s theme for the Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival had one, ongoing, constant aside from that story’s main thread. Numerous interviews on the subject revealed that you couldn’t have one without the other in discussion of the history of the LGBTQ community – the bars/nightclubs and The Imperial Dove Court (IDC). As revealed in my interview with longtime community member and performer, Camille Roberts, “The Court was the seed that was planted in Fresno for the gay community, and that seed has turned into a tree that blossomed into all [the local organizations, initiatives, bars, and clubs). If it weren’t for the court, we wouldn’t have this beautiful tree that’s growing here.”
We left the article’s focus on the bars without delving too deeply into the IDC since both have a profound, powerful, ongoing and historical impact on the community independent of one another. The Imperial Dove Court needed its own pages in the Flyer with which to spread its wings. If the bars and nightclubs are the backbone of the community, having provided a safe place for cultivating growth and change… then The Imperial Dove Court is the lifeblood for the community’s varied and continued successes.
Graciously accommodating me yet again, Tiffany Taylor Tate – Empress VII and XXVII of the IDC, invited us into her home for an extended interview to provide me with more background to the organization. Her hospitality didn’t end there; she also invited Imperial Family members Steve, Emperor XXXIII and Montana, Empress XVI who was in town visiting from the east coast. Between them, a priceless wealth of experience, knowledge, and first-hand accounts of The Imperial Dove Court’s efforts to uplift the community.
While this cannot be an exhaustive telling of the IDC’s history, as that would take countless hours to achieve, this piece will act as an introduction to one of the oldest and most influential entities in the local gay community.
A not for profit organization, The Imperial Dove Court de Fresno/Madera Inc. is a 501(c)3 established in 1973 by Imperial Queen Mother 2, Jesse “…to be of assistance and aid to all who are in need if it is within our power to do so,” as also stated in the preamble. The IDC fundraises all year round, holding any and all funds raised in a trust until the end of the fiscal year when applications for aid are assessed, approved, and resources are dispersed. Forty-five years and counting, the non-profit supports the communities of Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties.
Initially politically motivated, the IDC worked diligently to stop propositions that were not only aimed at marginalizing the gay community but also to support people living with HIV/AIDS who were being health suppressed, as shared by Montana, Empress XVI. Although seen as an LGBTQ organization, The Imperial Dove Court reaches out and hosts fundraisers for any 501(c)3 in need.
The Imperial Dove Court is structured like most corporations with a board of directors, Heads of State, Secretary, Treasurer, and organization members. However, titles are redesigned for select positions, where ‘Heads of State’ are officially known as ‘Emperor’ and ‘Empress’ otherwise known as monarchs. And each can select their (or invest the titles of) ‘Imperial Crown Prince’ and ‘Imperial Crown Princess’ who enact duties similar to that of an executive assistant.
The titles themselves sound gender-exclusive, but one of the unique elements of this organization is that they’re only gender-exclusive in presentation – meaning if you have the honor of being elected into the role of Empress you better come dressed to the nines in your best gown, crown, and jewels. To be more specific, an Empress is a role typically held by Drag Queens (or female impersonators as preferred by Tiffany Taylor Tate) but the Emperor is not a Drag King – although, women have held the role. The IDC has specific guidelines and often, a dress code, when it comes to representing the Court at sanctioned events that could very well take place anywhere across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and soon to be Europe.
One of 65 active chapters, The Imperial Dove Court is an affiliate of the Imperial Court System (ICS) – established in 1965 in San Francisco – one of the largest and oldest LGBTQ organizations in the world. “The Imperial Court System is a grassroots network of organizations that works to build community relationships for equality and raise monies for charitable causes through the production of annual Gala Coronation Balls that invite an unlimited audience of attendees to be presented at Royal Court in their fanciest attire throughout North America along with numerous other fundraisers each year, all for the benefit of their communities,” as expressed on Wikipedia.
Monarchs from the IDC travel to other cities as a representative of Fresno and the surrounding areas to garner support for future coronations, charities, or fundraising events, as well as to lend their own support to those chapters. And much of the expenses of these efforts actually fall on the shoulders of the reigning Emperor or Empress at the time.
“San Francisco and San Diego have big sponsors – Budweiser (for example) will give say $10,000 to the Emperor and Empress to buy their gowns, crowns, and pay for travel expenses. Fresno, [it’s up to each monarch] to buy the gown, tuxedo, crown, travel, etc. … we average, each one of us, around $30,000 out of pocket per reigning year,” says Tate.
“When I was Empress… back then we had 12 state functions that were mandatory; two court shows every month – one at the Red Lantern and one at the old High Energy which used to be over on Clinton, it was a 2nd and 4th Sunday show. So, we had to go to Coronations and come back, but stay through brunch because you had to be seen, then drive (or fly) to Fresno and be in drag for a Sunday show at eight o clock,” reflects Montana.
Furthermore, Monarchs will continue to represent The Imperial Dove Court as part of the Imperial Family and travel to advocate for the community’s charities. Once an Emperor or Empress has concluded their reign, they will be considered members for life and remain as part of the organization in the formal ‘Imperial Family’ maintaining their reign number, i.e., VII (7) XVI (16), etc. The numbers represent the order the Monarchs reigned in accordance to when the organization was established. This May marks the 45th year of the IDC, so the newly crowned Emperor and Empress will forever be known as (title) XLV.
The Imperial Family will serve as mentors to incoming Monarchs, guiding them and The Imperial Dove Court to continue the work of serving the community to the best of its ability.
As Steve, Emperor XXXIII, explains, “Once someone takes the title of Emperor or Empress, whether you’re reigning that year or not, you’re always looked at as a leader of that organization … for the rest of your life.”
And no better example exists than Founder and Imperial Queen Mother 2, Jesse. Considered a champion of the Court, she works tirelessly to support the members and their efforts.
“Jesse, our founder – Empress I & IV – has been involved in every single reign whether she liked us or not,” shares Montana, “She is the epitome of what we should all be.”
The Monarchs are essentially marketers, networking and connecting as often as possible to generate interest for programs, fundraisers, or events. The more money they’re able to raise throughout the year, the more they’re able to help those in need. And most, if not all, Monarchs are doing all of this on top of working full-time jobs.
“We were getting out of work at 5 pm, going home, jumping in drag for a show that was at 8 pm but probably didn’t start until 9, and then didn’t get out til midnight, getting home at 2 am and having to be at work at 8 am that morning,” says Montana of her days as Empress XVI, canvassing 3-4 nights a week.
For decades, The Imperial Dove Court has been the unofficial godmother to the entire LGBTQ community – and now, the caretaker of all the areas it serves. The IDC’s sole purpose is to watch over the well-being of the Central Valley by providing aid where needed, in the issues that directly affect our community. Each Court member and Monarch give their time, energy, and resources not for notoriety, or claim to fame, but to make the world a little bit of a better place than how they found it.
More information about public meetings, getting involved, volunteering, and upcoming events follow the IDC on Facebook @imperialdovecourtdefresno or visit www.idcfresno.org