After more than 40 years winning civil rights battles while wearing women’s clothing, a legendary LGBT and Latino rights activist reveals publicly for the first time, Nicole Murray Ramirez hates dressing in drag.
“It’s very pleasing to me to be a Latino and a gay man today and see the results and the progress of the work we did in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says Nicole Murray Ramirez.
Back then, says Ramirez, Latinos were called ‘wetbacks,’ while gays were called ‘deviants.’
429Magazine recently sat down with the activist, who declined to disclose his age, in his adopted hometown of San Diego for an in-depth interview.
As the eldest of two sons of a man who helped organize the American G.I. Forum, one of the United States’ first Latino activist organizations, Ramirez began his political career as a 15-year-old leader in the Young Republicans movement.
Ramirez is quick to point out that he is not a Republican these days and hasn’t been for decades. But why did he start out as one? Patriotism, he says.
“Republicans were thought of as more patriotic,” he said. “My father, who was a veteran of Word War II, who fought as a soldier in the U.S. Army in Europe, helped organize the country’s first Latino organization. It was for GIs. We were proud to be Latino and we were proud to be Americans.”
In fact, Ramirez voted for Nixon over Kennedy and Goldwater over Johnson in 1960 and 1964, respectively.
“You have to remember, in 1960 we were genuinely worried about the Cold War and who could lead us in a Cold War,” Ramirez said. “It was about keeping us safe.”
Nicole Murray Ramirez’ transformation from gung-ho GOPer to gay rights activist is tied to his struggle to accept his homosexuality.
“I dated girls,” he said. “In fact, I was engaged to be married to one because I thought that was what I should do; I though that was what I was supposed to do.”
But all the while, Ramirez had a gut feeling that there was another way for him to live without the pangs of guilt and remorse that followed every one of a handful of intimate encounters with other gay men during the 1960s.
“I would always go straight to the priest to confess afterwards,” he said. “It was a constant struggle for me. I actually dreamed of being a cardinal and eventually pope.”
For Ramirez, however, the road to notoriety was not St. Peter’s Passetto. Rather, it was Gower Street near Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.
“I went to Hollywood to ‘find myself,” he said. “No one in my family knew where I was for a while. I found myself, all right – and a lot of other things. Unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale!”
In Hollywood, Ramirez accepted his homosexuality, at first with one caveat: He must have been attracted to men because he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Eventually, that idea gave way to his truth.
“I was homosexual; that was it,” he said. “I wasn’t Christine Jorgenson, after all.”
With self-acceptance Nicole Murray Ramirez eventually moved fully past denial of his nature and beyond the temptations of “better living through chemistry” (i.e., his brief, experimental period with illicit drugs).
Then, taking the organizing and campaigning skills gained during his years helping GOP state and national politicos, Ramirez began to help shape the gay rights movement alongside such luminaries as Harvey Milk and Jose Sarria, the nation’s first openly gay candidate for political office and founder of the Imperial Court movement.
Ramirez holds the highest titles in both the Imperial Court de San Diego and the international Imperial Court System, foremost among them, Empress Nicole the Great, Queen Mother of the Americas.
“I became friends with (Metropolitan Community Church founder) Troy Perry and (Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Los Angeles Pride cofounder) Morris Kight when I got to Hollywood,” he said.
Last year, more than three decades after his death, Harvey Milk got a street in San Diego named after him – the first in America. That was a direct result of Ramirez ‘work alongside Milk’s nephew, gay activist, public speaker and businessman, Stuart Milk.
But Ramirez is quick to point out that, although he and Stuart Milk are good friends, he was not a close friend to Milk the elder.
“It’s like Stonewall,” Ramirez said, explaining why he likes to be clear that Harvey Milk and he were just strong acquaintances and colleagues in activism, but not buddies.
“Suddenly, after it became a big thing, everybody and his brother were at Stonewall. They were right there in the bar during the raid that started the riots against the police. That bar would have to have many, many floors above it to hold all those people.”
Finally, that promised confession about drag:
“I think drag queens are heroic and historic figures in our movement – and they don’t get the proper credit,” Ramirez told 429. “But, I don’t like dressing in drag myself; that’s for me. Nevertheless, Stonewall was about drag queens.”
According to Ramirez, there would have been zero “gay liberation” without men and women who dressed in drag.
“My idol, Jose Sarria was a drag queen,” Ramirez said. “Jose had a closet full of dresses and women’s clothes.” Ramirez said. “I had to loan him a suit so he could have his picture taken and run for office!”
The heroism of his own drag personae notwithstanding, Ramirez made one thing clear for the first time ever:
“But me right now, I hate dressing in drag.”