Popped Culture: Nicole Murray Ramirez

Article By: Robert Stinson
Photo by: Jennifer Martinez

It’s irritating when people say that the gay rights movement is a fringe issue that is instigated by the media to further divide opposite ends of the political spectrum. This was the same kind of rhetoric that was thrown around during the civil rights movement when African-Americans and other minorities stood up for their God given rights as American citizens. Thankfully, since that time, legislation has been drafted in order to protect people against those kinds of social injustices, yet today, homosexuals are still denied their basic rights that are granted to their straight counterparts.

The LGBT community owes so much to people like Nicole Murray Ramirez, who some describe as being boisterous, loud, obnoxious and opinionated. Despite the arrows in his back, Nicole has been elected four times as a chairman of the city’s human relations committee and has been the driving force behind The Imperial Court de San Diego’s status as one of the most influential and effective charity organizations in the city. He has received numerous awards, including the Caesar Chavez Humanitarian Award for his tireless efforts to ensure that all minorities have a voice and seat at city hall.

It was truly an honor for us at NUG to be granted the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the founding fathers of San Diego’s bustling gay community.

What set of circumstances made you want to dedicate your life to public service?
Well, I come from a very patriotic family. My father was a World War II veteran and Latino activist, and my mother was very religious and heavily involved in the church. The first Latino national organization founded in the United States was called the National GI Form, which was comprised of American veterans of Latino descent who came together to form the organization. Of course, they were smart enough to say that they were proud American veterans while at the same time empowering and giving visibility to the Latino community. My dad had a leadership role in that organization, so he really encouraged me to take an active role in society by reading the newspapers and getting involved in student government. I always say that my father pushed me to be a congressman and how my mother said she wanted me to be a bishop, so one day, I called them from Hollywood and told them that I wasn’t going to be a congressman or a bishop, but that I was a queen.

How has The Imperial Court de San Diego grown since you were indoctrinated into the organization?
The best way to describe The Imperial Court: it’s the gay Shiners. The Imperial Court, if you think about it, was founded in 1965, which was before Stonewall. It’s interesting to note that the founder, José Julio Sarriar, was a WWII veteran and, in 1961, became the first openly gay candidate to run for public office. I got involved in The Imperial Court because it was the only game in town. So if you wanted to get involved in the gay community in San Diego, it was either the Tavern Guild, which was comprised of bar owners, or The Imperial Court.  At that time, there was no HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and The Centers were not even established yet. The Imperial Court is where I met Harvey Milk and we got involved in the campaign against Anita Bryant.

How has the political landscape changed for LGBT activism in San Diego since you first started getting involved in the process?
I think I’ve been blessed to witness the growth of the gay community as well as the Latino community. If you think about it, the two civil rights struggles mirror each other and it has been an honor to bring visibility to both communities. I have tried to follow in my father’s footsteps by fighting for social equality for all peoples. In all fairness, we owe a debt of gratitude to the African-American Civil Rights Movement because they were the pioneers who laid down how to do it.

On that note, were you ever involved in the Caesar Chavez Labor Movement?
The two people who’ve inspired me the most have been Caesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King. I had the honor of meeting and working alongside both of them, especially Chavez. When I was around Caesar, I always knew I was in the presence of greatness, yet he was such a humble man. I talked him into coming to a gay march on Washington in the 80s and he came, despite getting a lot of gruff from the other Mexican American leaders for doing it. He simply didn’t care what other people thought of him. He was the first civil rights leader to come out in support of homosexual civil rights.

Your opposition to the renaming of the Coronado Bridge is completely understandable. Can you talk about what it was like being there when the Reagan administration refused to lift a finger for the thousands afflicted with the AIDS virus?
This whole thing has opened up a wound for me. I lived through that time, which I call the early dark ages of AIDS. Going to funerals and memorials became a way of life for many of us. Going to those weekly burials and then having the President of the United States not even mention the word AIDS was just too much.  Even though he was effective at foreign policy, it doesn’t change the fact that he had the blood of thousands of individuals on his hands.

What was the biggest challenge you had to face during your tenure as chairman of the city’s human relations commission?
I was honored to be the only one elected to four terms as a chair; I had no problems. It was the most remarkable experience because that commission is made up of Republicans, Democrats and minority leaders all working together. I had the chance to learn about all different kinds of people. What the commission respected about me is that I’m not a one issue person; in fact, the city council and previous mayors have said that under my direction, the commission became more involved with social justice issues.

What is your official opinion about the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance, which would in fact be a defacto ban, forcing collectives to close their doors?
I have mixed concerns about this issue. I’m a staunch supporter of compassionate marijuana use. In my opinion, we should legalize marijuana because there wouldn’t be all this drama. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of games being played and people taking advantage of the system. I come from the 60s where there was sex, drugs and rock n’ roll and, unlike Clinton, I more than inhaled. Living through the AIDS epidemic and seeing my friends benefit from it made me come out in support of medical marijuana. I’m appalled that someone in this country can have a little bit of weed and go to prison for it. We’re going through the same thing that happened during the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s. This being said, I do feel that California will lead the way when it comes to the decimalization of marijuana.

What needs to happen in order to win the hearts and minds of individuals in the country who are steadfast in their opposition to civil liberties for individuals within the LGBT community?
When people know that you’re gay, whether it is your coworkers or neighbors, it makes it more personal and harder to judge. Harvey Milk said, “Come out of your Closets.” Why is that? The more people that come out,  the more people will realize that they are in fact surrounded by gay people on a day-to-day basis, and those personal relationships can be built, which will change people’s minds. I say in many of my speeches that I give across the country that the struggle for gay and lesbian equality is the civil rights movement of the 21st century. Just wait, we’ll see the day when we’re finally free; however, it may not be in my lifetime.

Steve

Author: Steve

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