The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence confront a protest by bible-thumpers in Union Square, 1984.
Photo: Glenn Bachmann
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are an order of nuns of all genders, sexualities, and spiritualities; who take vows to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt. What began as a spontaneous outing into the Castro, to challenge the "clone" mentality which had become so pervasive in the gay community, blossomed into a thriving organization. This random act of artistic provocation led others to take their vows and don the habit, so that by 1981, San Francisco had 18 Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and a missionary order in Sydney, Australia. By the end of 2010, the Order in San Francisco had 86 active nuns and was joined by orders throughout the U.S., as well as, in Europe, South America, and Australia.
Sisters everywhere work for the betterment of the communities they serve. They achieve this through raising funds for charities, educating the public on social issues, raising political consciousness, confronting attacks on queer people, and putting smiles on peoples' faces. The Sisters mix facts and levity, truths and theater to raise our communities in all aspects of their lives. While often being vilified by some who claim spiritual superiority, the Sisters have raised and given away more than $1,000,000 to a variety of causes. The Order has given grants to everyone from gay Cuban refugees abandoned in the Castro by their sponsoring churches to Catholic charities from around the country to emergency funds for people with AIDS and breast cancer.
Founded on Holy Saturday, April 14,1979, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,Inc. are an order of nuns of all genders, sexualities, and spiritualities; who take vows to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt. On that day Ken Bunch, Fred Brungard, and Bruce Golden donned the habit and ventured forth into the Castro from their home at 272 Dolores St. to challenge the "clone" mentality which had become so pervasive in the gay community. Making their way to 18th and Castro St., then known as "Hibernia Beach", the trio caused a stir. Encouraged by reactions of confused delight, the nuns made their way from the Castro to the gay beach at Land's End. By days end, the future Sister Adhanarisvara, Sister Missionary Position, and Sister Roz Erection had dropped the habit to spend the evening reveling in the fun they'd all had.
In September of the same year several gay men, including Edmund Garron, went to a Radical Faerie gathering in New Mexico. Here they began to develop new modes of expressing and blending their masculinity, spirituality, and gayness. Returning to San Francisco with a renewed vigor, several of the men who attended began to see the potential for a higher purpose in the habit-wearing antics of their friends. Conferring with Sr. Adhi, Sr. Mish, and Sr. Roz; they began to organize. By March 1980, the name Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had been chosen and the design for the Order's wimple and habits was ready for production. By Easter Sunday of 1980, fifteen Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence would be making their debut in matching habits.
Four early Sisters in 1980 habits.
A Sister of Perpetual Indulgence
Photo: David Green
"Dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt."
A gang of gay men who "consider themselves a bonafide religious order... We are very much dedicated to pre-Christian pansexual traditional religions, the nature-loving, sex-loving, pleasure-loving religions of the earth and that people celebrated long before patriarchal Christianity came along and started burning witches at the stake. Our goal is the re-liberation of sexuality based on real joy and sensuality, not fraught with guilt and games. We are joyous pagans and believe in the sanctity of the earth."
Some of the Sisters: Sister Homo Fellatio, Sister Missionary Position, Sister Marie Ever-Ready, Sr. Sensible Shoes, Sr. Marry Rich, Sr. Loganberry Frost, Sr. Boom Boom, Sister Quaalude Conduct, Sister Stigmata, Sister Banana Nut Bread, Sr. Sleeze, Sr. Rosanna Hosanna Fellabella, and more.
At a memorial service for Harvey Milk they used the traditional litany prayer form. They chanted, "let us deliver ourselves," interspersed with such phrases as "from the hatred of patriarchal religions," "from the Ku Klux Klan and Cops for Christ," "from greedy speculators," "from the two faces of [then] Mayor Dianne Feinstein."
--Burr Snider, SF Examiner, Sept. 23, 1981
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
"... The fundamentalists--a group called S.O.S.-- are here on a crusade to drive the devil from Sodom, and the gays--plus the feminists, pro-abortionists, sexual anarchists, radical lesbians and various free-speech/free sex/free thought outfits--are here to tell them to go to hell--don't pass GO, don't collect 200 souls . . . a sort of entropy has set in . . . but uh-oh . . . The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, honey, have made the scene. Yes, it's the Sisters, San Francisco's sweetest street guerrillas, charging into the Square from the Stockton Street side in all their mock ecclesiastical-cum-high slut glory. A great unified howl of recognition goes up and a circle forms around their procession as the Sisters go dancing and chanting around Union Square, looking for all the world like as if somebody slipped some acid in the communion wine. The Sisters are simply the wildest, most outrageous irreligious vision you ever saw, an order of gay male glitter nuns . . . in habits and high heels, flashing dazzling smiles and sly good humor, oozing out miles of vamp and camp. Nobody ever told the Bible people they'd run into something like this on the road to Damascus."
Two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence kick back.
An almost geisha-like Sister of Perpetual Indulgence
The Sisters on parade.
Photos: David Green
Always ready with a pithy sound bite.
Photo: Glenn Bachmann
Sisters attending the unveiling of Mona Caron's Market Street Railway mural where they are immortalized.