by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle and the Olympic and Rainier Empire celebrated their 45th coronation on Saturday, February 13, with the crowning of a new Emperor and Empress at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel in downtown Seattle. The sold out event, Coronation 2016: 'A Return to the Paramount: A Presidents Ball in Black and White Deco' had all of the typical fanfare and pomp and circumstance one has come to expect of a Court function. There was big hair, beaded dresses, a cross section of generations young and old, and time-honored traditions. However, Coronation 2016 would see some heartfelt surprises and moments of inspiration that made the evening one for the books.
With a replica of the Paramount Theatre sign (lights and all) as a backdrop, the Court of Seattle College of Monarchs crowned Olympia XLV DonnaTella Howe and Rainier XLII Mark Surreal, Regent Emperor.
'The I-5 corridor is about to see hard work and evolution,' DonnaTella Howe told her supporters on Facebook following her crowning as Empress. 'My continued work with the court is because I believe in it. I believe in those that came before me and those I stand beside today and those that I hope will join us if and when they are ready.'
'Some might say that the Court System is obsolete and I don't see it that way,' continued DonnaTella Howe. 'We do have many more freedoms in life that have changed the landscape, but that doesn't mean that the work the Court does is any less important.'
'I'm embarking on a year that I feel and know is meant to be now,' concluded DonnaTella Howe. 'I will be working for Seattle, for Washington, for our LGBT communities. Working with other organizations and groups and worlds will collide in the most brilliant and amazing ways. I really hope to see many of you during this year and to work together, because that's what makes a community.'
'As I sit here still trying to soak all this in, I am honored to be here once again,' Mark Surreal, Regent Emperor said to his supporters on Facebook. 'If you would have told me that I would be in this position 5 years ago, heck a year ago, I would have laughed at you. As most of you know I crowned DonnaTella Howe almost 5 years ago as a Miss Gay Seattle. I watched her grow into this amazing leader, and now I am so very honored and proud to walk alongside her as my Empress.'
'The out pouring of love and support is a breath of fresh air,' he said. 'I am looking forward to working with our young court members and guiding them along their journey. It's going to be a yearlong party with a lot of work thrown in. Let's get this party started!'
The Court of Seattle is in its fifth decade of community service to the greater Puget Sound area. The Court's roots go back to 1968 but it wasn't until 1970 when Seattle's first coronation took place at the Olympic Hotel, in the Olympic Bowl Ballroom. In 1974, Seattle's fourth coronation was held at the Eagle's Hippodrome Ballroom. The College of Monarchs was formed and the 'Lampshade,' the state crown, made its grand entrance and is still one of the most recognizable court artifacts in the International Court System. It was at that coronation that Lance Knight was elected the first Rainier and Dominique St. Laurent became Olympia IV.
This year Olympia I Scotty and partner King Father John Frangello celebrated 45 years with the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle as founders and 50 years together as lovers.
'The first Coronation was held in the Olympic Bowl of the Olympic Hotel. I was one of 22 contestants that night,' Olympia I Scotty explained to attendees at Coronation 2016. 'The stars aligned that night and I came out the winner. I was the most shocked and surprised person in the ballroom. Still am.'
'The highlight of my reign was my first trek to mecca, San Francisco,' continued Scotty. 'But before I even got out of town my luggage was stolen! When I arrived and the girls in San Francisco heard of my misfortune, they offered dresses, furs, and wigs all at my free disposal. San Francisco treated this farm girl like an Empress!'
'The first reign was a success and I have stayed active throughout 44 reigns now,' said Scotty. 'I plan on staying active until, well, you know. 'Dead' sounds so final, so I'll just say . . . when I've moved on.'
Turning the focus to the future of The Court of Seattle, and acknowledging the inner turmoil experienced by the International Court System as of late, Scotty said, 'My hope for the future of the court system is that there will be a stop to the airing of our dirty laundry and a return to dealing directly with the person or entity with whom you have issues. It's so simple. Because if we don't start setting a better example for the youth and new membership . . . then we have no future.'
'Besides money raised and the good deeds done, I feel the most wonderful gift we give ourselves are the friendships me make,' Olympia I Scotty concluded. 'Old or new, cherish them. I am very lucky to have friends dating back to the beginning of the court system. I have a special shout out to my partner of 50 years, John Frangello, who has stood by me through thick and thin, the good, the bad and the really ugly. Living with a Drag Queen / Empress takes the patience of Job and then some.'
Following Olympia I Scotty's wonderful history lesson and performance at Coronation 2016, Olympia IV Dominique St. Laurent (1975-1976), accompanied by the ever-popular Olympia VI Bublz LaRue (1977-1978), took the stage to honor the 40th Anniversary of Olympia V, The Lady Graytop (1976-1977). Dominique, wheelchair bound and recovering from a recent heart attack and loss of vision, and Bublz regaled the audience with stories of their friend and one of the Court of Seattle's pioneering drag queens, The Lady Graytop.
The Lady Graytop is one-half of the The J.C./Lady Graytop Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in 1977, by the Court of Seattle as a permanent memorial to Emperor J.C. and Empress Lady Graytop, vibrant members of the LGBT Community. The Lady Graytop was murdered and a suspect was never named or arrested in connection to the murder - which has remained unsolved to this day.
Since its inception, The Court of Seattle has awarded over $60,000 in various scholarships to deserving students through The J.C./Lady Graytop Memorial Scholarship Fund and the recipients of this year's scholarships were announced and those present were introduced to the crowd near the beginning of the evening.
Following their recollections of The Lady Graytop, Bublz and Dominique St. Laurent performed. In a moment that can only be described as triumphant, Olympia IV Dominique St. Laurent accidentally knocked her wig off her head but continued to perform with a boldness that seemed to transcend age, illness, or any other mortal thing until coming to the end of her number and a raucous applause from a standing ovation. It was a tremendously powerful moment and one that I don't think anyone in attendance will soon forget.
Also celebrating anniversaries at Coronation 2016 were Rainier VII Gary Scott and Olympia XI Alice (35 Year), Rainier XII Michael Orias and Olympia XVI Sofonda Peters (30 Year), Empress Emeritus Charity (30 Year), Rainier XVII Steph Patrick and Olympia XXI Valerie Doll (25 Year), Rainier XXII Tim and Olympia XXVI Coco Vaughn (20 Year), and Rainier XXXII Larry Stewart Ryan and Olympia XXXV Aleksa Manila (10 Year).
Olympia XXVI Coco Vaughn, known for dresses that shine bright as the sun when the spotlight comes into contact with the beaded gowns she wears, did not disappoint. She looked as stunning as ever during her performance honoring her 20th anniversary of being crowned Empress of Seattle and the Olympic and Rainier Empire.
The performance of the night, however, was delivered by Seattle drag legend Olympia XXXV Aleksa Manila. Dressed in all red, with a layered costume (complete with cape and razor sharp red painted fingernails) that she stripped away until all that was left was her futuristic braided and beaded hair art and flesh-colored, red beaded bikini bod. Flanking her on stage, with a mix of ribbon and contemporary dancing were backup dancers Grant Cabebe and Justin Williams. The performance was high energy, theatrical and simply was the most thought out and well executed of the evening.
In attendance at Coronation were members of the International Court System from around the Western region, including San Francisco, Denver, Reno, Salt Lake City, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Vancouver BC and Surrey BC, and Alaska, as well as members of the Washington state Imperial Courts of Bellingham, Everett/Snohomish County, Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane, and Vancouver. In addition there were members of the International Court System from Buffalo, New York and New York City and others.
At Coronation 2016 the Court of Seattle seemed to reaffirm that they are as relevant as ever. In a world where the LGBTQ community is changing and changing fast, the International Court System has held onto its mission, traditions and pageantry to emerge as a staple in our community - locally and throughout the country - as a bastion of our history. And they are okay with that. And we should be, too.
The Imperial Court of Seattle presents pageants and showcases throughout the year. Coming up next will be the Imperial Prince and Princess Ball - watch for details. Also, keep an eye out for the King and Queen of Hearts Pageant, the Closet Ball, the King and Queen of the Seas Pageant, The Emperors' Turn About and other events.
For more information, visit the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle and the Olympic and Rainier Empire at www.imperialcourtofseattle.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ISCSORE. For more information about the International Court System, visit http://www.impcourt.org.
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