The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (also Order of Perpetual Indulgence (OPI)) are "radical genderfuck" artists, activists and self-described 21st century nuns for the queer (gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, lesbian, kink, etc.) communities. They are highly visible gay icons and social activists and have used their visibility to advance a host of human rights and liberal issues both within the LGBT community and in mainstream society. One of the most visible and well known is Sister Roma.
The international network of Orders is mostly non-profit charity organizations within their countries, raising money for AIDS, other LGBT-related charities and mainstream community service organizations, helping lead the campaign for safer sex and harm reduction, performing modern ritual and educating on various issues and against hate crimes.
The Sisters have been considered controversial by various members both within and outside the LGBT and queer communities but have received the harshest criticism for obvious parodies of Catholic icons and policies.
The San Francisco Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have raised well over $1,000,000 and distributed it to non-profit organizations that serve not only the queer and sex positive communities but also mainstream organizations that don't discriminate their charity work such as the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and women's breast cancer charities including Wendy's Hope.
|San Francisco 501(c)(3) tax filings.|
|Year||Total $ Income (in thousands)||Total $ Grants Given (in thousands)||Percentage||Source|
|2007||152||86||56%||IRS form 990|
|2005||103||79||76%||IRS form 990|
|2004||115||87||75%||IRS form 990|
|2003||89||103||86%||IRS form 990|
The Sisters' mission statement describes the organization and its aims thus:
The Sisters devote ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. The Sisters believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.
The Sisters' state vows to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt while serving their respective communities.
The Sisters are a loosely connected global network of autonomous Orders or Houses with the San Francisco Motherhouse anchoring much of the activities as being the largest, biggest fundraiser and arguably the most active. They have members in at least thirteen US states as well as eight countries on five continents and rely on the Internet to communicate. Most of the Orders are based in gay meccas and directly assess and address the needs of their communities, and thus are highly responsive to issues pertaining the LGBT and alternative communities which they serve.
The organization was started in 1979 in San Francisco, California, and has more than six hundred nuns worldwide with new members joining regularly and new houses being established. Originally, the organization included only gay male nuns, but it now includes all genders and orientations including intersex, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, and transgender people.
In 1982, Sister Florence Nightmare, RN (registered nurse) and Sister Roz Erection (also an RN) joined with a team of Sisters and medical professionals to create Play Fair, the first safer sex pamphlet to use plain language, practical advice and humor. It was so well received that it had to go through a second printing within just a few months. The first public sex-positive pamphlet preceded the AIDS pandemic and coined the phrase "safe sex". For their 20th Anniversary they revised it and it still remains one of the few sex-positive harm-reduction sexual pamphlets available. The Sisters worldwide continue to raise awareness of sexual health, healthy sexuality and many Orders regularly pass out condoms and participate in events to educate on sexual health issues.
In 1983, they helped organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil now known throughout the world as the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, which is now the world's largest grass-roots event taking place in thousands of communities around the world. It is a unique event that promotes discussion, education, and action around HIV/AIDS with the following four objectives:
Bobbi Campbell (Sister Florence Nightmare RN) became the first "face of AIDS" appearing on the cover of Newsweek (1983-08-08) with his lover. As part of the self-empowerment of people living with AIDS (PWAs) it was believed that humanizing the people behind the disease would lead to more compassion not only from religious and homophobic folks demonizing gays but also from the gay community that was at ground-zero of the impending global AIDS pandemic. Bobbi wrote of his experiences living with AIDS in a weekly column that touched people personally and in 1983, together with Dan Turner founded the People With AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement or PWA Movement.
Gilbert Baker (Sister Chanel 2001) created and made public domain the Rainbow Flag, which is now the defining international symbol for LGBT human rights. After the 1978 assassination of openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk, demand for the rainbow flag greatly increased. To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot pink stripe due to the unavailability of hot-pink fabric. Today it is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers, and is flown in lesbian and gay pride marches and events worldwide. In 1989, the rainbow flag received nationwide attention after John Stout successfully sued his landlords in West Hollywood, when they prohibited him from displaying the flag from his apartment balcony. Meanwhile, Baker is still in San Francisco, and still making more flags.
The Sisters have held fundraisers for the Cuban boat refugees (Mariel boatlift), the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the Gay Olympics (now called the Gay Games); for Project Open Hand, an organization that provides meals to homebound people with HIV and AIDS; and for conferences, events and alternative proms for queer youth as well as dozens of other organizations every year.
In 1982, Sister Boom-Boom, since retired from the organization, ran for San Francisco Board of Supervisors and got over 23,000 votes with her occupation listed as "Nun of the Above." San Francisco passed a law soon after, commonly called the "Sister Boom Boom law", that all people running for office had to do so with their legal name. She was immortalized in Emily Mann's play "Execution of Justice" about the trial of Dan White for the assassinations of the city's first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, and Mayor George Moscone who were killed in 1978. In the Broadway production she was played by Wesley Snipes.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence believe that many institutions and social constructs are a source of dogma, hypocrisy, guilt and shame. This has led to encounters with the Catholic Church. An example is when the Sisters staged an exorcism of Pope John Paul II because of his harsh condemnations against homosexuality. His first major statement on homosexuality was not made until 1986 but it marked a significant departure from the hopeful changes which had begun to mark the previous years. Issued on October 31, 1986, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger it expressed harsh and uncompromising language. According to his "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,"
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not."
The use of the phrase "objective disorder" outraged many as the Vatican had not used such language before and it was seen by some as a step backwards. John Paul II was teaching that even if homosexuality is not freely chosen it is nevertheless inherently and objectively wrong, not just homosexual activity but homosexual orientation itself.
On 31 October 1989, two weeks after San Francisco was devastated by the 6.9 (Richter scale) Loma Prieta earthquake, the Sisters performed street theater and used donation buckets to collect thousands of dollars for the mayor's Earthquake Relief Fund from the Halloween crowds that poured into the Castro neighborhood for the massive street party. Castro Halloween was safely managed by the Sisters from 1990-1995, until "drunken gay-bashers out to get their kicks" convinced the group the event was unsafe without official city support. The Sisters agreed to host a costume-mandatory dance, HallowQueen, in a SOMA gay nightclub, which raised over $6000 for charity as their contribution to helping move the event out of the mostly residential neighborhood.
A decade later San Francisco was still struggling to manage the Halloween event. In 2006 nine people were wounded when a gunman opened fire at the celebration. The celebration was canceled in 2007. The Sisters, in hindsight, have been seen as a bargain of sorts, raising money every year for charity without city funds while keeping the chaos under control by providing entertainment and structure. Their abilities for staging and running large events has kept them in demand as event organizers and advisers.
In 1993 the Sisters, with financial support of the Castro institution Cliff's (Variety Store and Hardware), start up Children's Halloween as a safe space for hundreds of neighborhood children and continues to this day as a treat for the kids and their gay and non-gay parents with performances and a special kids' costume contest and parade. The event precedes the infamous and increasingly chaotic Halloween in the Castro and carefully orchestrates itself to get out of the neighborhood before any of the adult revelers enter.
In 1994, the punk band Chumbawamba recorded a version of their gay rights song "Homophobia" entitled the "Sisters Mix" after the Sisters. Several Sisters appeared in the promotional music video, dancing and singing with the band. The band also apparently had a friendly relationship with many of the Sisters.
In 1994 US President Bill Clinton first considered openly gay philanthropist James Hormel for an ambassadorship in Fiji but since Fiji proved to have repressive laws against gay men--a homosexual act being punishable by fourteen years in prison--the nomination was not put forth. Instead Hormel was named to the United States delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1995, and in 1997 he became an alternate delegate for the United States at the United Nations General Assembly. Hormel's appointment to the U. N. General Assembly post was quickly and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, but when Clinton nominated him to be ambassador to Luxembourg in October 1997, a lengthy and rancorous political battle ensued.
Because of Hormel's excellent record, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination in November 1997 by a vote of sixteen to two, with only conservative Senators Jesse Helms of North Carolina and John Ashcroft of Missouri opposed. Although an estimated 60 of the 100 senators supported the appointment, three Republicans -- James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Robert Smith of New Hampshire--launched a vigorous campaign against it. Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi refused to take the necessary steps to bring the matter to a vote. In public remarks Lott called homosexuality a sin and compared it to alcoholism and kleptomania.
Abetted by conservative groups such as the Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council, the dissenting senators charged that Hormel was pro-pornography and anti-Catholic and would not be accepted in largely Catholic Luxembourg and filibustered to stall the process. In support of the pornography allegation, the senators offered a list compiled by the Traditional Values Coalition of materials in the Hormel collection at the San Francisco Public Library. Hormel had not selected any of the publications in question, many of which were also in the Library of Congress.
Opponents based the charge that Hormel was anti-Catholic on the fact that during an on-camera interview at the 1996 San Francisco (Gay) Pride Parade he laughed when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence walked by. The Family Research Council distributed video tapes to the entire Senate of the brief incident where it was hard to tell if he was laughing at the Sisters' actions and outfits or one of the jokes by the people interviewing him.
Objections regarding Hormel's possible reception in Luxembourg were blunted when officials of the country, which has laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, indicated that he would be welcome. Even staunchly conservative Senator Alphonse D'Amato of New York found the blatantly homophobic obstruction of the nomination an embarrassment and urged that Trent Lott bring the issue up for a vote. Since Lott continued to stall, Clinton used the process of "recess appointment" to name Hormel ambassador in May 1999. Inhofe expressed outrage at the tactic--which was completely legal and had been used with far greater frequency by Clinton's Republican predecessors Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- and vowed to block all 149 of Clinton's pending appointees in retaliation. Lott agreed, although both eventually relented. Hormel was sworn in as ambassador on June 29, 1999 with Timothy Wu, his partner since 1995, holding the Bible at the ceremony. Also in attendance were Hormel's former wife, his five children, and several of his thirteen grandchildren.
Nuns of the Above is the comic-tragic name given by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to those in their ranks who have died, mainly from AIDS, and are immortalized in their folk art section of the Names Project Quilt commemorating people who have died from AIDS. The name was in part reference to Sister Boom Boom's run for San Francisco supervisor where she ran as "Nun of The Above". Created in the early 1990s the quilt has made history several times.
The Sisters' AIDS Names Project quilt for the "Nuns of the Above" was featured at the 1996 NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt display in Washington D.C. in front of the U.S. House of Representatives and was amongst the first quilts viewed by then Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper Gore and later featured in the Names Projects' calendar worldwide. The Nuns of The Above quilt itself has been flown around the United States and is in high demand for local displays. While in town for the AIDS Memorial Quilt display the Sisters led an exorcism of homophobia, classism and racism on the steps of the United States House of Representatives and assisted with an activist AIDS death march and protest to the gates of the White House where ashes of people who had died from AIDS were illegally spread on the lawn.
In 1999, San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano came into conflict with some in San Francisco's Catholic community when the Board of Supervisors, at Ammiano's request, granted the Sisters a permit to close a block of Castro Street for their 20th anniversary celebration on Easter Sunday. Said Roman Catholic Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy, "While we are offended by what they do, we're simply asking 'Please don't do it on Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian year.'" Instead the Archdiocese suggested the following Sunday, which was the Russian Orthodox Easter. An Archdiocese newspaper compared the Sisters' event to neo-Nazis celebrating on the Jewish holiday of Passover a comment which the Anti-Defamation League said was offensive and "...trivializes the horrific actions of hate groups." Some believe the controversy, which was repeatedly brought up by Ammiano's Catholic detractors, may have hurt his mayoral bid among San Francisco Catholics. The resulting attention ensured a healthy crowd and what the Sisters estimated was a million dollars worth of publicity for the group's community event.
In August 1999, the Sisters were invited to be Parade Grand Marshalls at Reno, Nevada's first Pride Parade. Nevada's Republican Governor Kenny Guinn signed a bill in May outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians in Nevada so the LGBT community was disappointed when he refused to sign a proclamation in support of the Reno Pride Parade which parade organizers were assured he would and is regularly done for pride events. On June 11, 1999 President Clinton issued a proclamation designating June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month but Governor Guinn refused to issue a Gay Pride Day proclamation for the event largely because of the Sisters' participation, which he feared might offend people of faith. The resulting controversy was front page and lead-item news on every TV station in Reno and made the Sisters instant celebrities in town as well as guaranteeing a huge turnout with some non-gay spectators telling reporters they had attended specifically to counter Guinn's position. In response to Governor Kenny Guinn failing to issue a proclamation in support of Transgenders, Bisexuals, Lesbians and Gays the Sisters wrote their own and delivered it to the packed crowd. The celebration receives front-page press as well as coverage from every television news channel in the city.
In 2001 President George W. Bush refused to issue a proclamation declaring June Gay Pride month although proclamations for American Indian Heritage, Hispanic Heritage, Asian/Pacific American Heritage, Older Americans, Women's History, Irish-American Heritage, and African American History all were honored. In response, the Sisters issued their own proclamation making June 2001 and "every June hereafter" as Queer Pride Month. Reading, in part, "Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and all others labeled as Queer Americans deserve equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..." they encouraged "World citizens to observe this month with fabulous programs, ceremonies, parties, parades and fun-filled activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and all others labeled as Queer Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our cultural and national life and improved the lives of people throughout the world."
In Cathy B. Glenn's paper "Queering the (Sacred) Body Politic: Considering the Performative Cultural Politics of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" (The Johns Hopkins University Press) she summarizes, in part,
"the Sisters example may help us to understand how it is possible, more generally, to utilize identity politically without the traps of identity politics. That is, identity politics have a general tendency to limit and fix both the political ground on which groups stand and the subjectivities presupposed by the identities claimed in the name of political action. The Sisters' utilize identity in their politics precisely by un-fixing, from the norms established in various socio-political contexts, both the subjectivities they embody and the political ground they occupy. Put differently, rather than limit the possibilities for politics and the political subject, SPI queers both and creates the conditions for the possibility of a multitude of political subjectivities and modalities."Some interpret this along the lines of queer liberation theory which also speaks to all human rights - that you can be who you are or liberated from who you are (or perceived to be) regardless of social-political, cultural or class constructs. By even existing, let alone flourishing, the Sisters manifest hopes and dreams that outcasts and outsiders can work for a better future and achieve it outside nuclear family and binary gender constructs.
|Houses in Australia|
|The Order of Perpetual Indulgence||Sydney, Australia||1982||www.universaljoy.com.au|
|Houses in Europe|
|The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Manchester||Manchester||www.thesisters.demon.co.uk|
|The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, London||London||1999|
|The Abbey of the Dreaming Spires||Oxford||2006||www.oxfordsisters.org.uk|
|Les Soeurs de Perpétuelle Indulgence, Couvent des Chenaies||Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Lyon, and Nice||www.20six.fr/spi-chenaies|
|Les Soeurs de Perpétuelle Indulgence, Couvent de As||Atlantique sud, near Bordeaux, France||1994||perso.numericable.fr/couventdas|
|Les Soeurs - Couvent de Paname||Paris||1996||spi.paname.free.fr|
|Les Soeurs de la Perpétuelle Indulgence, Couvent du Nord||Lille||1998||assoc.orange.fr/spi.nord/|
|Les Soeurs de Perpétuelle Indulgence, Couvent de Paris||Paris||1991||www.lessoeurs.org|
|Orden der Schwestern der Perpetuellen Indulgenz - Erzmutterhaus Sankta Melitta Iuvenis (Berlin Archmotherhouse O.S.P.I.)||Berlin||1991||www.indulgenz.de|
|Die Schwestern der Perpetuellen Indulgenz - Haus Notre Dame Sainte Diana||Hamburg||1996||www.spihamburg.de|
|Die Schwestern der Perpetuellen Indulgenz - Haus Sancta Maria Penetrantia||Cologne||1997||www.spicologne.de|
|Die Freien Schwestern der Perpetuellen Indulgenz - Haus St. Olaf zu Berlin (Berlin F.S.P.I.)||Berlin||2005||www.dieschwestern.de|
|Licht, Liebe, Lust & Latex - Schwesternschaft der Perpetuellen Indulgenz||Berlin||2005||www.die-nonnen.de|
|The Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Convent of Dunn Eideann||Edinburgh||www.thesisters.org.uk|
|The Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Convent of Moravia||Elgin, Moray||www.thesisters.org.uk|
|The Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Glasgow Mission||Glasgow||2006||www.thesisters.org.uk|
|Der Orden der Perpetuellen Indulgenz||Zürich||2006||www.derorden.ch|
|Houses in South America|
|Hermanitas de la Perpetua Indulgencia||Seccional, Colombia||hermanitas.8m.com|
|Hermanas de la Perpetua Indulgencia||Montevideo, Uruguay||www.geocities.com/perpetuaindulgencia|
|Houses in the United States|
|The Grand Canyon Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence||Arizona||2007||www.azsisters.org|
|Abbey of the Big Red Wood||Eureka, California||2007||www.eurekasisters.org|
|Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence||Russian River, California||2000||www.rrsisters.org|
|The Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence||Los Angeles, California||1995||www.lasisters.org|
|Asylum of the Tortured Heart||San Diego, California||2006||www.sdsisters.org|
|Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. (the "Motherhouse")||San Francisco, California||1979||www.TheSisters.org|
|Tampa Bay Missionary Order||Tampa Bay, Florida||2004||http://flsisters.org|
|The Gateway Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence||St. Louis, Missouri||2005||gsoi-stl.org|
|Sin Sity Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence||Las Vegas, Nevada||2006||www.sincitysisters.org|
|New York City Sisters||New York City, New York||www.nycsisters.org|
|Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Order of Benevolent Bliss||Portland, Oregon||2006||www.portlandsisters.org|
|The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Abbey of St Joan||Seattle, Washington||1996||www.theabbey.org|
|Missionary Order||Tennessee, Iowa, Chicago, Philadelphia||1996||www.mosisters.org|
Over the years the Sisters have named as saints hundreds of people who have helped on various projects behind the scenes organizing, coordining actions or projects, performing at events as an artist or emcee or even serving the greater GLBTI community. Rarely but sometimes they canonize community heroes who have recently died. Some of the more notable saints include:
This article is based on "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sisters+of+Perpetual+Indulgence&action=history