This article was published on October 20th, 2016
Picture an order of queer 21st century nuns dedicated to truly selfless giving, community outreach and actively making the world a better place, all with a spectacularly fabulous sense of humour, utterly dazzling wit, and an aesthetic that rivals even the greatest drag queens in history. Combining this unlikely combination is what resulted in the conception of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Founded back in 1979, the order emulates the structure of a church with impressive precision and flawless organization. The largest order is that of the founding city, San Francisco. Today there are orders in 14 different countries on four different continents. Becoming a member is not a casual affair either; it is a strict two-year process that requires commitment, dedication, a learning period and proving to the existing members that the will to join is genuine. The organization is entirely not-for-profit and no sisters are ever paid or receive compensation for their duty; the level of commitment required for the membership consists of a passionate and incredibly dedicated elite of ‘drag nuns’ who have selflessly and incredibly successfully taken Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from strength to strength with a level of style and humour that has set them apart from others.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have evolved since their inception to become one of the leading voices in the LGBT community both as campaigners for sexual health and rights advocacy, and as leading figures of community involvement. Although their style has evolved from a parody of the Catholic Church, with the ensemble, vocabulary and structure closely following that of the church, their intention is truly genuine.
“Raising awareness for important issues, protecting rights, and civil rights, protecting and caring for our community,” explained Sister Roma, one of the longest serving members of the San Francisco order.
During the early days of the organization the Sisters mainly focused on dealing with the AIDs crisis. Today they are acknowledged as being one of the most effective organizations in the gay community, particularly with removing the social taboo associate with HIV and AIDs.
“The inspiring thing about the sisters is that we were faced with a plague that was killing our community,” said Sister Roma. “We taught the world to respond with compassion. We set a model for the rest of the world for how to respond. We started to feed people who were sick, pay their rent. Their friends were afraid to touch them – sisters said no, this is not the way to react and this is not the way to be.”
Today the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence continues with their hard work, raising millions of dollars for community groups, carry on challenging the oppressive voices faced by the LGBT community, and most importantly, they provide a place for those struggling to turn to. With a ferocity, wit, intelligence, and style that epitomises the organization, they relentlessly pursue an ideal of equality, acceptance, and pride that has defined the LGBT movement for decades.
As Sister Roma so eloquently summarized it:
“There will always be people who don’t understand us, oppose us, or try to strip us of our rights, for example, as recently as in North Carolina. People need to step up and fight it.”