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ISCSORE Board President Rod Fender
ISCSORE Board President Rod Fender
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Rod Fender is the Board President for The Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle & The Olympic and Rainier Empire's (ISCSORE). After attending Coronation 2009 on Valentine's Day and witnessing the surprising turn of events that culminated in the ascension of organization Prince and Princess Eric Bonsteel and Candace Derrier being elevated to the positions of Emperor Rainier XXXV and Empress Olympia XXXVIII, I felt it important to sit down with him to discuss exactly what it was that took place.

During our conversation we touched upon numerous subjects including the nonprofit's place in the Seattle community, its continued relevance, the no-vote of Emperor candidate Douglas Anderson and his hope that those unhappy with the election would continue to stay involved. Here are some of the highlights.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. In layman's terms, would you be able to explain what it was exactly that took place during Coronation 2009 including the no-vote of Emperor candidate Douglas Anderson and the ascension of Imperial Prince and Princess Eric Bonesteel and Candace Derrier?

Rod Fender: The elevation of the Imperial Prince and Princess is very easy. It is in our Policy and Procedures that when there is only one candidate who runs for Emperor or Empress, as was the case [here], just before results are announced I take both the candidate and the [Prince and Princess] to a backroom and, before I open up the envelope - which I do in front of them - I ask them both if they are willing to step up into the position of Emperor or Empress depending upon [the results]. They both said they agreed to do that. With that done, I opened up the envelope and I showed it to them and to Douglas and, unfortunately, the gentleman was no-voted.

Now, how that happened is due to the fact that, in Seattle, election of [ISCSORE] monarchs is completely democratic. It is completely open to the public, everyone residing in King County eligible to come in and vote. On voting day these people come in, they register, they receive a ballot on which they mark either "yes" or "no" depending upon their feelings for the candidate and then drop them into a locked box. [Our] accountant Rick O'Leary then picks them up and brings the sealed envelope to me containing the results the night of [Coronation] and that's basically it.

It is unfortunate that this [a no-vote] happens but it has happened in Seattle before. But it was still very difficult for me when I opened up the envelope and saw the results. But I have to support the city and the city is what comes out and votes.

Fetters: But what does this say about the organization, though? People have said over the past few years that ISCSORE doesn't matter anymore, that it isn't relevant, that it is more a club than a nonprofit. How do you respond to that sort of attitude and what part does this vote have in fueling those types of remarks?

Fender: When I took over as president a year ago in February, what I have tried to do with the Board and Court Members is to try and get them to look towards the future. With the Board's approval and the Court membership's approval, we've gone in and revamped our Policy and Procedures. We have [streamlined] things due to lack of membership, not to lack of support from the city. The city is awesome and they have continued to stand by us in many ways. But we have had to cut back a little bit and we need to work closer with other community nonprofits and organizations. I have met with [representatives] of many other organizations like the Knights of Malta, people in the leather community as well as others and talked with them about finding ways to work together as a team. I think this is an important step and will help us considerably. Most of all, though, it is education. We are not educating the youth in the city. We need to let them know who we are and what we stand for and that is something we simply must work on.

Fetters: Is that because there is so much more out there for LGBT youth to do now than there was 30-odd years ago when ISCSORE was founded?

Fender: That's part of the difficulty, which I think is great, having all these other organizations out there supporting and working for the community is a good thing, but with the Court of the Seattle - and I'm sure we're not the only one - we just haven't quite figured out how to pick up the young people, yet. We do have some, like William and Jada, our past Gay Seattles, and like Layla and True, our current ones, but we don't have a lot of them and none that are on the Board. I do see it coming together. I do see the energy. Candace, our new Empress, has stated that she wants to rebuild the city, that she wants to get our youth involved, and that's what [she and Eric] need to do. But over the past two or three years you are correct. Our organization has not brought in as many members. This is something we have to change.

Fetters: Is it about outreach then? Is it about going out into the community and letting your hair down about letting people see you having fun while still doing it for a good cause?

Fender: You've got to show them we can have fun, and if you don't then they're going to wonder why they would ever want to get involved with the organization. We've got to open our minds. We've got to accept. Listening to other Courts, the hardest part is getting some of the older Drag Queens to accept this new generation. They come in wearing some of the funkiest clothes and doing to the craziest things, but that is what is modern, that is who they are. The tattoos, the piercing, the wild haircuts, everything else that is out there, we've got to learn to accept and we've got to work with them. That's where we need our Imperial Family, one that is full of energy and is willing to go out there in face with all the regalia on and make themselves known. The Board needs to run the [administrative] part and the Imperial Family has got to go out in the community and have fun. That's how we rebuild.

Fetters: You mention "old queens," and while I know that is not your word, it does lead me to my next question and that is the fact there is a perception that drag queens, especially drag queens who are involved in the Court System, that they are kind of prima donnas, that they're basically - excuse my language - bitches.

Fender: That's what we're trying to tear down. Nicole the Great, the Queen Mother of the Americas in charge of the International Court System, called a meeting of all the Courts of Washington and that is part of what we talked about. We've got to get rid of our snobby attitude or - & heaven forbid - we're a dying organization. If we can't fix our faults or our mistakes then we're never going to grow.

Fetters: In regards to growth and to the idea of change, that kind of brings me back again to Coronation and the election. Speaking with some just after the results were announced, there were those who were highly unhappy. Some even claimed that there was some impropriety, that the election was somehow rigged so Douglas would fail. How do you respond to those claims and how do you calm people's fears?

Fender: Everybody knows when voting day is and they know the timeframe they have to cast their votes. Those votes are kept in a locked ballot box and Rick O'Leary makes sure everything is in place before voting commences. People come in [and] there is a sign-up sheet that tells you how many people have registered. However many signatures you have are all the ballots you better have in that box. Not any more and not any less, and if it is more or less he immediately calls the board president, which in this case would be me. Now, I would question on less. I can't make a person put a ballot in a box. Just because they come in and sign up for ballot does not mean they are actually going to actually cast their vote. But, if everything matches then I do not receive a phone call. If I don't receive a phone call then I can only assume that the amount of ballots equals the amount of signatures. I did not receive a phone call. For the people that are unhappy, I understand where they are coming from. While I am maybe a little disappointed in what happened, it did still happen. It is 50-plus-one that determines the vote, and in this case the majority decided in the negative. The community spoke and I must support their wish no matter how painful it might be for myself, [Douglas] or those who supported him.

Fetters: But what do you do to keep these people involved? What do you do to help them get over their anger and their disappointment?

Fender: I want them to come to me or I want them to come to other board members or to the new Emperor and Empress and talk to them. I want to let them know that it is going to be okay. That we want their input; that we want their involvement. I want to let them know that we will never badmouth anybody, and if someone is doing so, then I want to know about it. I can only hope that Douglas will stay involved with the Court. That he will be there to show that it is okay. As long as he does that, then they should hopefully follow. If he is man enough - which I am positive that he is - to come back, then his friends will understand and be supportive, and as long as the relationship between himself and the new Emperor and Empress stays positive & then it should all turn around.

Fetters: And what about the new monarchs? What does this mean for them?

Fender: Based on what happened, Candace and Eric have at first one thing to do and that is to prove that, as they did not run for the titles, that they can fill these positions with dignity and honor. They have to prove that they are capable of leading the organization and the Imperial Family. Which is something they can do. As Imperial Prince and Princess they have both already done a lot for Seattle. They understand what it is they need to do and I personally believe they are going to do a fantastic job. I'm excited and I think many others in both the Court and in the city are, as well.

Fetters: Any last sentiments or thoughts?

Fender: It is an unfortunate thing, what happened to Douglas, but the city and the organization have got to stay together, and sometimes [adverse events] make us unite more together. How does the old adage go? United we stand, divided we fall? That's where we're at right now, and we've got to stay united or some of what we've discussed here will unfortunately begin to come to pass.

People need to care. They need to care for the LGBT community. Things are tough right now; a lot of people have lost their [jobs] and are struggling. We need to be able to support each and every one of our people and help them out anyway that we can. That is why the Court exists. That is our mission, and we need to rise to the occasion. I think we can do it. In fact, I know we can.

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