The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence




The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), also called Order of Perpetual Indulgence (OPI) in Australia and elsewhere, is a charity, protest, and street performance organization that uses drag and religious imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance and satirize issues of gender and morality. "We're not dressed as girls, we're dressed as nuns. We definitely minister to the spiritual needs of our community, while drag queens sort of focus on camp and fun within our communities. We're very different communities. A lot of people refer to us as drag queens, but we say we're in nun drag. We are nuns."At their inception in 1979, a small group of gay men in San Francisco began wearing the attire of nuns in visible situations using high camp to draw attention to social conflicts and problems in the Castro District. The Sisters have grown throughout the U.S. and are currently organized as an international network of orders, which are mostly non-profit charity organizations that raise money for AIDS, LGBT-related causes, and mainstream community service organizations, while promoting safer sex and educating others about the harmful effects of drug use and other risky behaviors. In San Francisco alone where they continue to be the most active, between 1979 and 2007 the Sisters are credited with raising over $1 million for various causes.

Early members of the group, while not hiding their masculine features or facial hair, are characterized by San Francisco gay community historian Susan Stryker as the embodiment of "genderfuck". Their appearance has changed over the years; the nun motif remains the same, but it has been joined with exaggerated make-up that accentuates the rebellion against gender roles and religion. The Sisters have attracted controversy both within and outside the LGBT communities, but have received the harshest criticism for obvious parodies of Catholic icons and policies. In August 1980, a dozen men dressed in 14th century Belgian nun's robes and habits, and according to one participant using the name Sister Missionary Position, "a teensy bit of make-up so as not to be dowdy on a Friday night", met the proselytizers where a chase ensued and attracted an audience of gay supporters who heckled the preachers until they left. In October 1980, the dozen or so erstwhile nuns held their first fundraiser, a bingo game and Salsa dance that was well-attended in large part because of the write-up in The San Francisco Chronicle by Herb Caen the same day, who printed their organization name, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The benefit was for San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church Cuban Refugee Program, and it netted $1,500 ($3,906 in 2009). The Sisters began making regular appearances at Castro events that focused on sexual tolerance or provided a showcase for drag. They also developed a mission statement

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a leading-edge Order of queer nuns. Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.

They are WELL known throughout the United States and Europe for political activism, protests; social activism and AIDS activism. Other causes include safer sex and condom use, raising money and awareness for breast cancer research, the Gay Games, violence the LGBT communities and sponsoring dances for LGBT youth.