Jon R. Browning, aka Jessica St Jon, Empress 14, 17 and 19 of the United Court of the Lone Star Empire of Dallas, died on Oct. 15 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.
Born Dec. 4, 1951, in Dallas, Browning was the only son of W.R. and Margie Browning and attended W.W. Samuel High School. He was last employed with the Dallas Independent School District until he retired for medical reasons. Browning was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1980s. While many would have considered this a death sentence, he chose to enroll in the experimental treatment programs at UT Southwestern.
Browning also made an important decision which shaped the rest of his life: He chose to focus all his energies to help others in need, and he became a full-time charity volunteer.
In 1985, the gay community was in an uproar over the emerging AIDS epidemic. It was a time of great fear in the gay community and the newly-created Dallas AIDS Resource Center established a much-needed 24/7 AIDS Information Hotline. While undergoing daily chemotherapy and radiation, Browning volunteered to work the “graveyard” shift, night after night. He was the kind and knowledgeable voice of the AIDS Hotline to many scared young men, talking for hours and hours about up-to-date information and developing local resources.
Browning became heavily involved in all the educational and fundraising activities of the AIDS Resource Center. He staffed the information booths at community events like Razzle Dazzle Dallas and he helped recruit and train new volunteers for the AIDS Hotline. His hard work and creative talent was a perfect match for the many fundraisers and information booths. He threw himself into it and was a core member of the creative team that put on the huge AIDS Resource Center parties, fundraisers and festivals of the 1980s.
It was during this time that Browning became involved with the Imperial Court of Dallas. He was participating in fundraisers at the “Wild Crowd” on Fitzhugh when he first met Empress Cati Collins and joined the court as her Grand Duchess in 1986. In his first year of involvement with the court, Browning acted as corresponding secretary for Reign 12 and earned the “Court Member of the Year” award at Coronation 13. He served as Princess Royale for Empress 13 Patti Le Plae Safe and was then elected Empress 14, serving with Emperor 14 Linda May. His involvement with the court grew over the years as he dedicated himself to serving the community. He would again serve as empress for reigns 17 and 19.
In February 1995, at the 30th anniversary of the Imperial Court System in San Francisco, Browning was named an Heir Apparent to Empress Jose, the Widow Norton. Browning was the first heir named from the state of Texas and he was an outstanding representative and goodwill ambassador for Texas, wherever he traveled. Few realize just how important Browning was to increasing the visibility of the United Courts of Texas. In spite of dealing with his own health issues, he continued to serve the Dallas community and the state of Texas on the bigger stage of the Imperial Court Council. In 1998, he received the highest honor in the Imperial Court System, the Jose Honors award.
Browning and his indomitable spirit were a gift to all who knew him and their words and memories offer a glimpse into how special he really was. He has been described by his friends as “an inspiration and shining example of thoughtfulness, class and plain courtly dignity,” “one in a million, an amazing talent, a gifted costume designer and one of the most giving people I have ever had the pleasure to know,” and “a flawless empress and a terrific Heir Apparent to Jose 1 and the UCT. … He was willing to stand up for his convictions, even when it might not have been the most popular thing to do.”
Browning’s passing marks the end of an era, and the court has lost a great friend, a great fighter and a great advisor, not only for the court but for our community, friends said. Perhaps Browning’s selfless and giving spirit is best summed up by one of the former leaders of the Dallas Gay Alliance who said, “In this contemporary discourse on bullying and suicide, Jon was an exemplar of today’s ‘It Gets Better’ campaign. It got better for so many nameless, faceless souls who reached out to the hotline for help. It certainly got better for me!”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010