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Excitement builds for ISCSORE's Coronation 2006, ICS ascension
Excitement builds for ISCSORE's Coronation 2006, ICS ascension
Excitement builds for ISCSORE's Coronation 2006, ICS ascension SGN interview's reining monarchs Larry Ryan and Aleksa Manila

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle (ISCSORE) monarchs Rainier XXXII Larry Stewart Ryan and Olympia XXXV Aleksa Manila can't help but look forward to their coming swan song during Coronation on Saturday, February 17 at the Fifth Avenue Red Lion Hotel. Not because their year as the titular heads of the noted nonprofit is ending, but because of the event's historic implications. International Court System (ICS) founder José J. Sarria will be stepping aside as leader of the forty-year-old organization, San Diego's Nicole Murray-Ramirez is taking over the reigns during an historic ceremony taking place at the start of the annual star-studded event.

"It's exciting," said Aleksa, "and it's also quite humbling. We are so touched and honored that José and Nicole have decided to perform this ascension here in Seattle during our Coronation [event]." I got a chance to sit down with Larry and Aleksa to discuss this, their year as monarchs, the state of the ICS and many other topics over dinner at Capitol Hill's Wing Dome. Between spicy chicken wings and cheesy French Fries it became clear that, more than anything, these two community activists look at the future of the court system both locally and internationally with hope and pride.

"It has really been a great year," said Larry. "I've really enjoyed traveling around the country to the different Courts, meeting people and making new friends all over the country. More than that, I've really enjoyed all of the events and fundraisers that have happened here in [Seattle] and Everett. Seeing all the people wanting to get involved in their community is definitely inspiring."

For these two, ISCSORE and the ICS are more than just about Drag Queens and Kings performing for admiring audiences. For them, these fundraising organizations are cornerstones of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, both in Seattle and across the country, who have supported and fought for the rights and success of their brethren for decades -- going all the way back to Stonewall.

"This really is an international system," said Aleksa. "People forget [the ICS] is the world's largest LGBT organization. It was founded forty years ago by a man, José Sarria, who was the first openly Gay [person] to ever run for political office [in California], a really significant event as far as LGBT history is concerned."

But why come to Seattle for this ascension? Why not stay in California, home to both José and Nicole? "Nicole approached me in Las Vegas and asked what I thought of the ICS conducting the ascension here during our step-down," said Larry. "My immediate reaction was that it would be stupid of us to say no, but I also knew we needed to make sure it was going to be alright with our Board of Directors and get approval from them before saying yes."

"When Larry came back and told me of their conversation," added Aleksa, "I was immediately excited. I called Nicole to get information as to why they wanted to do it here. She said Seattle has always been one of the more significant Courts in the ICS system, and because of its rich history and strategic location nationally it just made perfect sense to conduct the ascension here. I have to say, when the Board gave their approval and after we ironed out all the details I couldn't have been happier. It is so humbling to think that they want to conduct this historic event here."

Still, one can't help but wonder how this event of sparkly crowns and shimmering tiaras will mean anything to the LGBT community at large. Forty years ago, options for self-expression and community support for LGBT individuals were few and far between. Not so now. Which begs the question, are ISCSORE and the ICS even relevant now that we've passed into a new millennium?

"Of course it is," said Larry. "The history of the organization both locally and nationally speaks for itself, I think."

"Behind all the glitz," continued Aleksa, "we have to remind ourselves why the Court system is here, why it is important, why so many nonprofits, groups and clubs work with us. A lot of it is because of [our] political and social activism. A lot if it is because we put on fun events that are entertaining for the whole community.

"We will continue to fight for LGBT rights long after mine and Larry's reigns as Empress and Emperor have come to an end. This will be the case here in Seattle and in the other Courts all through the ICS because these fights almost never stop. Right here in Washington State our legislators are debating issues involving marriage and benefits for same-sex partners. This is just the kind of discussion I hope we in Seattle's Imperial Court can be deeply involved with. I'm very hopeful, very optimistic, very eager, and I look forward to being a part of [ISCSORE] for many decades to come."

It's not all seriousness for the twosome, however, and looking back on their year together as reigning monarchs both Larry and Aleksa can't help but smile. "I've really enjoyed attending all of the different Coronations," comments the Emperor, "but the biggest highlight had to be walking in San Francisco right after we stepped-up as Emperor and Empress last February."

"That was a lot of fun," agrees the Empress. "Larry was just shaking, that is the one thing I remember most about our walk. Typically, as you're introduced to the crowd and you walk down the stage to meet the reigning monarchs of whatever city you are in, the male title holder usually waits for the female on the runway to escort her up. I could literally see him shaking he was so nervous. It was so very cute." As for Aleksa, she had her humbling moment this past year as well. "For me, it had to be receiving the 2006 José Honors Award in New York back in April," she commented.

"That was pretty amazing, definitely," adds Larry with a warm smile. "For all the stuff that you have done, that is such a high honor. Hell, I was just so proud of her and we hadn't really started reigning yet! We'd only been Seattle's monarchs for less than two months."

"It was very humbling," admits Aleksa, blushing from her title partner's praise. "It really put things in perspective, made me remember again why we are here, why we take on these titles. For me, the award wasn't just a personal recognition, but recognition of what all members of [ISCSORE] are constantly doing in the community.

"But truly, each and every experience is unique and original unto itself. Being monarchs, going around the country, performing at different events and venues, you meet new people and you gain so many new friends. I mean, that San Francisco experience was, like for Larry, quite memorable for me as well, what with the two of us being introduced as the newest Emperor and Empress on the circuit. You really feel that moment in your heart."

"One of the things Aleksa and I have also done this year is to make sure we stay and/or get involved with other Seattle LGBT organizations," adds Larry. "She's involved heavily with the Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities and does a lot of work for Seattle Counseling Service. I've been heavily involved with the Seattle leather community for the past eight years.

"Together we've really gone out of our way and tried to bring many different facets of the local community together in ways maybe they haven't considered or thought about before. By doing this, they see how possible it is for all of us to work together to achieve common goals."

That was then, however, and now -- for these two - their lives revolve mostly around getting ready for their own Coronation. "There have been the usual stresses, of course," admits Aleksa. "But these past few weeks, getting ready and helping to plan the event, have truly been wonderful. This is going to be an incredible show, not only for the historical implications with José and Nicole but in entertainment value as well. There is a lot going on. This won't be a traditional Coronation Ball. I think the average person walking in off the street will leave with a very positive reaction to both the event and to the ICS in general."

"I can't wait," exclaims Larry. "We have some phenomenal performers taking part this year, not the least of which is a live performance from the Filipiniana Dance Company. For people who have never seen them perform, they are really going to be surprised. I've seen them a few times and they are absolutely amazing to watch. I tend to look at them and look at all the acrobatic things they do and think, 'Dang! Why can't I do that?' Of course, at my age and my size there's no way I can do any of that, but just to see them is worth the price of admission by itself."

Coronation 2006, "The President's Ball," takes place starting at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2006 at Downtown Seattle's Fifth Avenue Red Lion Hotel. Tickets are $75 and include Monarch's Reception and Dinner, entertainment for the night including performances by The Filipiniana Dance Company, Miss Gay Seattle XXII Smokee, Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse and many more. Honorary co-chairs for the event include Ingersoll Founder Marsha Botzer, noted author Reichen Lehmkuhl, recording artist Christine W and Lifelong AIDS Alliance Executive Director Tina Podlodowski. For more information regarding tickets and event information go to www.imperialcourtofseattle.com.

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