A Brief History of the Sisterhood

RETURN TO COVER STORY

• 1979: On Easter weekend three men in nun habits walk through San Francisco’s Castro District to protest problems in the gay community. Other manifestations take place later that year at a softball game, a nude beach and the annual Castro Street Fair. During the Labor Day weekend, the men attend the first International Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries in Arizona.

• 1980: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is officially formed and a Sister named Hysterectoria designs the first official habits, which are modeled after those worn by 14th century Belgian nuns. Engagement in more general social activism — such as the Three Mile Island protests — begins. The Sisters also begin campaigns to stop fundamentalist Christians from preaching anti-gay rhetoric in the Castro. In October, they hold their first benefit and net $1,500 to help gay Cuban refugees.

• 1981: The first international order of SPI is established in Sydney, Australia. In San Francisco, the Sisters organize the first-ever AIDS fundraiser, the Castro Dog Show.

• 1982: As a response to the AIDS crisis, Sisters Florence Nightmare and Roz Erection (who also happen to be nurses), help put together Play Fair!, a safer sex advice pamphlet that uses sex-positive language, and which the SPI distribute in the Castro community (that pamphlet is revised in 1999 as part of the SPI 20-year anniversary celebration).

• 1983: The Sisters hold the first AIDS candlelight vigil.

• 1984: After holding an exorcism of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, the SPI are “disinvited” to the Republican National Convention in Dallas. They come to Texas anyway and perform a second exorcism of Falwell — and one for conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly — in Dealey Plaza.

• 1987: During a papal visit to San Francisco, the Sisters hold a mock exorcism of Pope John Paul II. For their efforts, they are placed on the Vatican’s Papal List of Heretics.

• 1994: The Sisters attend the Stonewall 25th anniversary celebration in NYC and lead the Drag March from Alphabet City to the Stonewall Inn.

• 1996: With more than 20 convents worldwide, the SPI are now a global force. They honor the loss of more than 30 sisters to AIDS (called Nuns of the Above) by creating four 24-foot-by-24-foot panels for Names Project Quilt, which they bring to Washington, D.C.

• 1999: The SPI celebrate their 20th anniversary with an International Conclave of Nuns and an exhibit entitled “A Consistory Conspiracy: Changing the Face of Activism.”

• 2000: During San Francisco Pride, the Sisters show support for the Californians for Same-Sex Marriage movement. They also hold another mock exorcism, this time of conservative talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

• 2001: In the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks, the Sisters hold a candlelight vigil to remember the gays and lesbians lost in the attacks.

• 2003: In a banner year for SPI fundraising, sisterly efforts bring in more than $100,000, with 80 percent returning to the community.

• 2008: The SPI are featured in Queer and Catholic, a book of collected essays, short stories and poems about LGBT life and Catholicism.

• 2009: The Sisters mark their 30th anniversary with “Nun World Order” celebrations in San Francisco’s Dolores Park.

—  John Wright