On Easter Weekend 1979, three men marched down Castro Street dressed in traditional nuns’ habits. The men — Ken Bunch (Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position) and Baruch Golden — wanted to call attention to sexual intolerance and social problems in the Castro District, and so they proudly displayed their facial hair, smoked cigars, and one even carried a machine gun, parodying traditional masculine ideals as a rebellion against gender roles and religion. This event marked the inception of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Thirty-four years later, the group has grown to become an international network of orders, consisting mainly of nonprofit organizations that raise money for AIDS and LGBT-related causes. The group also promotes safer sex through its Play Fair campaign. The Sisters refer to themselves as an order of queer nuns and are involved in promoting respect for diversity and marginalized groups through community service and outreach. The organization uses humor, drag and religious imagery to satirize gender and religious issues. The process of joining an order resembles the steps for joining a Catholic order of nuns, and members choose sexually suggestive and absurd names when they are inducted, such as Sister Anita Blowjob, Sister GladAss of the Joyous Reserectum and Sister Hysterectoria.
In addition to their educational and fundraising campaigns, the Sisters host annual events on Easter weekend. Easter with the Sisters involves not only the famed daylong Dolores Park celebration on Easter Sunday but also a Dolores Trash Exorcism on Saturday to clean up the park and a weekend-long Zombie Christ Haunted House, at which volunteers dress up as conservative characters and carry signs such as “God Hates Bags!,” mimicking the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Sisters have described themselves as “sacred clowns,” and the theme of this year’s celebration was “Under the Big Top.” Hundreds gathered to “make Mary” with the Sisters at the alternative family-friendly event. The celebrations began with an Easter egg hunt for children, opened by the Easter Bunny and one of the senior Sisters. The traditional egg hunt was crowded with local children frantically scrambling to collect eggs containing toys and sweets. Following the children’s festivities, contestants gathered to compete in the Easter Bonnet Contest, flaunting an array of incredible headpieces. The marvelously creative bonnets featured butterflies, birds nests, Easter eggs and vibrant floral arrangements, adding a rainbow of color to the otherwise gray day.
The crowd made a fantastic effort with its outfits for this year’s event, and the park was filled with brilliantly clever costumes. Joining the Sisters in their elaborate face paint, robes and wimples embellished with sequins and baubles were several fabulously flamboyant popes, cheeky clowns, the Queen of England, punk bunnies and a feminist Jesus who cried out, “Be your own miracle — don’t wait for some man to do it for you.”
Unfortunately, the event was cut short when the audience was caught in the rain before the Sisters had a chance to anoint this year’s Hunky Jesus with a crown of thorns. The crowd, including a number of scantily-clad, red wine-soaked Jesus look-alikes and one hopeful with an electrified guitar cross, ran for cover. Unfazed by the rain, many resilient attendees and Sisters stayed in the park to drink and dance. One particularly upbeat group of men divested themselves of their wet trousers to enjoy the rest of the day in brightly colored briefs.
The Sisters have confirmed that the infamous Hunky Jesus contest, which has previously featured crucifixes made entirely of dildos, will be rescheduled to take place later this month.