Fort Lauderdale resident Steven Rule has been waiting 14 years for this one.
But on February 6 his goal came to fruition and on March 10 an event was held to honor the achievement — an official sanction of Florida as the 70th member of the International Imperial Court System.
The Court (also known simply as the International Court System, or ICS) is one of the oldest LGBT organizations in the U.S., which Rule describes as “a rich and beautiful history of LGBT pride.” As part of the March 10 ceremonies, which took place at Hagen Park Community Center in Wilton Manors, Rule was also invested as the “Czarina of All Florida.”
There were between 120 to 150 people in attendance from Orlando, Tampa, the Keys, Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
ICS functions are different than pageants, as “emperors” and “empresses” are voted in by the community in which they serve. They reign for one year, raising funds for their designated charities and travel (at their own expenses) around the country.
Jose Julio Sarria founded the ICS 54 years ago in San Francisco.
SFGN asked Rule to explain it all and tell us more about himself.
Why should people care that Florida was sanctioned?
Because we are an all-inclusive community and should always encourage people to develop new venues to become involved with. We all participate in drag in one way or another. [But] the ICS offers a new way to raise money for charity — a fun and fashionable way. We do not discriminate; we want members from the gay, straight, drag, leather, rodeo, religious and the many other community groups to be involved. We are proud Floridians.
What was the feedback at the ceremony?
What became clear from the local people in attendance [is] there is a huge desire for a Court functioning here. Most felt that the charitable work that the Court does and is known for is quite different from the pageant world. It’s welcoming to all walks of life, especially LGBT, seniors, drag, male [and] female that offers a venue for all to work together for charity.
You are also known as “Barbie LaChoy?”
Back in the mid-80s I was living in Anchorage. It was this part of my life where I was introduced to the ICS. I entered and won the Mr. Gay Alaska title, and the next year ran, and was elected, Denali Emperor 16 Steven Rule of All Alaska. Two years later on a dare, I decided to try drag and that is how Barbie Dawn LaChoy evolved. I ran for, and was elected, Aurora Empress 19 of All Alaska. I relocated to San Francisco in 1995 where my involvement with the ICS continued. This is when I was able to develop my friendship with Jose Sarria, the founder of the ICS. I ran and was elected Absolute Empress in San Francisco in 2002. To be quite honest, I was a better empress than I was an emperor, as I tended to be a bit shy. Becoming Barbie LaChoy, I am able to forget my shyness and raise more money for charity.
Was it surprising Florida wasn’t already part of the ICS?
It was quite surprising. I knew there were a lot of pageants, and I love them also, but it was not my cup of tea, so I never got involved in the drag community here. About four years ago, my friends and I started talking about how much we missed our involvement with the ICS. We toyed with the idea of starting one. After speaking with Queen Mother 1 of The Americas, Nicole The Great, she asked me to look into forming a Court here. That is where it began. I put a board together, filed the nonprofit status (The Imperial Sun Empire of All Florida) and then petitioned the Council for sanctions. We were fully approved on February 6, 2018.
What are your initial goals for the Court?
We need to grow and be known and [tell people] what the ICS is all about — having a Court family in Fort Lauderdale that will be known for their charitable outreach and fundraising abilities, in a unique and stylistic fashion. We hope to raise up to $10,000 for two of our selected charities, Grateful Paws and Pride Center Senior Services. We are also focused on encouraging involvement to be able to elect our emperor and empress at our first coronation in late January 2019.
What’s your background?
I am 55 [and] have been HIV positive for over 25 years. I was in the Air Force when I first realized I was gay, and served a total of 12 years of active duty and Air National Guard [duty]. I am a licensed nursing home administrator and currently employed at Park Summit in Coral Springs as the executive director, where I have been for the past eight years. My passion is LGBT senior living options, and [I] have been one of the leaders for training my staff in LGBT senior needs and issues. I have also worked for most of my adult life as an avid fundraiser for HIV/AIDS causes. I have been with my husband for 20 years and we have been married for four.
More is at impcourt.org.