The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose, Part 2: The Next Twenty Years

“As the ISCWR climbs the years to their Golden Jubilee in 2025, one thing remains true: a group that works closely together becomes a family, with all that entails.”

Read Part 1: The First Twenty-Five Years

Following their Jubilee anniversary, the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose (ISCWR) continued full steam ahead. The nature of the organization is that as one reign ends, another is beginning, so the morning after any celebration, the work resumes immediately. As discussed previously, the annual charities are chosen by the elected monarchs of the year, with the bursary for LBGTQ+ students remaining constant.

Up to this point, the Court was primarily LGBTQ+ entertainers performing for LGBTQ+ audiences in LGBTQ+ venues. With the start of Reign 33 in 2008, this changed in a major way. A combination of circumstances came together that saw the Court go very mainstream. The loss of long-time venue, The Roost, already had the Court thinking outside the box. Increased interest from straight audiences in both drag and fundraising were factors. But the single greatest impetus for the changes in Reign 33 was the accession of Empress Marni Gras following the tragic loss of one of her infant sons. Love and loss are feelings that transcended “gay” and “straight.” The selection of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (nICU) at the Stollery Children’s Hospital as a main charity for the year inspired passion and innovation within a community that was grieving along with their Empress and her family. Securing sponsors for the reign like iTravel2000 and WestJet added to the momentum. Local media attention helped along by events such as gifting a tiara to Global’s Su-Ling Goh also helped. At the end of the reign, funds donated to the Stollery were used for two special chairs for the nICU, and the ISCWR’s name is on them to this day, an ever-present reminder of the good deeds of the organization.

Empress 33 Marni Gras at her step down ceremony, Coast Plaza Edmonton, 2009. Photo provided by author.

Another important milestone occurred during Reign 33. With help from then MLA Rachel Notley, the members of the ISCWR were introduced during a session of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Significantly, this happened while they were in full crown — a feat which took months of negotiation as this was something previously only permitted for a different Queen- Elizabeth II! This has since become an annual event (until COVID anyway) and, to this date, the ISCWR monarchs are the only folks to wear crowns in any Canadian legislature. The first visit, from November 21, 2008, is available to watch on YouTube.

That the Court had found the confidence and bravery to step outside of their traditional gay bar safety zone was good because, in 2012, Reign 37 found itself losing gay bars across the city.  The loss of the community hub, The Junction, forced monarchs Vanity Fair and JJ Vellour to look outside, finding hotels and straight bars like The Mercury Room and Hooliganz Pub to partner with for shows and events. This was one of the reigns where the survival instincts of the Court kicked in and they shifted their focus to keeping the organization viable and the community together. Interestingly, their charities did not suffer; fundraising remained – and remains – the Court’s key mission.

Various ISCWR titleholders and friends at the St. Albert United Church, Oct. 22 2017. Photo provided by the author, courtesy of Craig Stansfield.

In addition to finding new venues for events, the Court explored new communities to partner with. One of these partnerships was Edmonton’s Christian community. Though historically a contentious relationship, more and more churches began to affirm different gender and sexual identities, and more queer people and Court titleholders found a way to reconcile their faith with the rest of who they were. This led to the creation of a series of shows called Church Chats. Spearheaded by Lola Lamore in 2016, these events brought drag into various Edmonton churches, some of which had long been queer-affirming, others that were new to welcoming this community. Lola’s work to bridge these communities led to the creation of a new annual award from the ISCWR. Reign 41 bestowed the Forging Friendships Award upon Lola — an award still given out to members who bring the mission of the Court to new groups today.

Emperor and Empress 38 Jeffylube XXXpress and Dayzi Chayne, at the 2014 Edmonton Pride Parade. Photo provided by author.

The Court had often partnered with bars for family Christmas parties but, traditionally, their own shows remained mostly targeted for the 18+ audience they had at gay bar events. This began to change though. There were increasingly louder calls for “family-friendly” events in the community, as options for queer parents and their kids, or, more and more, parents and their queer kids who were coming out of the closet at younger and younger ages. One of the Court’s events developed for families was Crowns for Kids, an event Empress Dee Luv imported from the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch in Calgary. This event has been happening for about fifteen years and has gone on to become a fundraiser independent of the ISCWR, raising funds annually for Kids Kottage and Ronald McDonald House. Court titleholders to this day continue to support this now-independent event that began in their organization.

Crowns for Kids was not the end of the Court’s efforts to create more family events though. Especially as the Court branched out into venues beyond gay bars, they were able to have more and more all ages events. With kids coming out earlier than ever, exploring their gender identities, and playing with drag, the Court soon found itself with performers of all ages. This led to shows such as the Junior King/Queen pageant, family drag brunches, and more. At just fourteen years of age, Jordan King became the youngest performer in ISCWR to be crowned with a title.  Increased youth interest and involvement also led the court, in 2019, to lower the voting age for Emperor and Empress from eighteen to sixteen. The argument was that if youth wanted to be involved in the organization, they should have a say in who leads it. The Court recently lowered its membership age to sixteen as well.

Empress 43 Morgen Fair and Emperor 43 Daavid DragOn at the Edmonton Inn, August 25, 2018. Photo provided by author.

While the Court explored new options locally, they also continued to work internationally. Edmonton’s ISCWR is one of over seventy chapters in the International Court System, and many Edmonton monarchs have worked with monarchs from other cities on national and international fundraising initiatives. Recognition of Edmonton’s success on the larger stage led to visits from Empress of Canada, ted northe, at Coronation 34 and Queen Mother of the Americas, Nicole the Great, at Coronation 40 to celebrate Edmonton’s Ruby Jubilee. 

Alongside the good times, the Court has certainly had its share of hard times. As with any volunteer-run non-profit organization, there will be disagreements about the direction the Court should go. Regardless, it is the successes of the organization that tell its story, not its conflicts. An organization that began in 1976 as simply something fun for the drag community has become an organization which raises up to $50,000 annually for their charities. Empress 42 Kenya DeWitt links the success of their reign to choosing a charity that is personally significant to the group. Longstanding partnerships with those groups form, and members of the Court and their charities work together for everyone’s benefit. 

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in the spring of 2020, this forced the Court to revisit not only how they raise money but what their objectives are in general. At a time when traditional fundraising wasn’t possible, Reign 44 of the ISCWR found new ways to become involved in their community, including the “Lovegood Food Exchange Box” where people can drop off food to help any who need it, and a clothing and toiletry drive for Edmonton’s CHEW project, helping houseless LGBTQ+ youth.  As the pandemic continues, the newly-elected Reign 45 is continuing to explore new options, as well as to recognize that after forty-five years, the ISCWR is in a position where they can offer mentorship in the community that is every bit as important as fundraising.

Empress 29 Sticky Vicky, who passed away on August 5, 2007. Photo provided by author.

As the ISCWR climbs the years to their Golden Jubilee in 2025, one thing remains true: a group that works closely together becomes a family, with all that entails. Sometimes, that means sharing grief. As the organization collects years, it also collects losses, such as the 2017 passing of Emperor 35 LJ Steele. Fourteen Monarchs have passed away in the last forty-five years . When those moments happen, members and titleholders take comfort from each other, taking the opportunity to celebrate the lives and collective successes of the individuals who make up the organization.

The 35th Imperial House under Millicent at the Alberta Legislature with Laurie Blakeman, Winter 2010. Photo provided by Dee Luv.

Rob Browatzke © 2020

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