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What's with those crazy nuns?: A brief history of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

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Photo by Nate Gowdy
Photo by Nate Gowdy

Have you seen the crazy nuns out on Capitol Hill? They are members of the Abbey of Saint Joan, our local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a global organization of charity-minded nuns dedicated to spreading joy and benevolence in their fabulously habited wakes.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was founded in San Francisco in 1979 by three men ready to challenge the homophobic world. Ken Bunch (Sister Vicious PHB), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position), and Baruch Golden went through the streets and down to a popular nude beach in full, traditional habits. One even carried a machine gun for protection. They were met with shock and amazement but captured widespread interest.

Their next appearance was at a softball game, where their pompon routine all but stole the show. In the fall of 1979, two additional members, Edmund Garron (Sister Hysterectoria) and Bill Graham (Reverend Mother) appeared at the first international faerie gathering and encountered even more men ready to answer the call.

Later that year, these four founders convened their friends, chose our name (The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), and composed a direct, dramatic mission statement: to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.

Photo by Nate Gowdy  

The origin of the Sisters in San Francisco occurred at the start of the 1980s moral crusades and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Gay population in San Francisco was large enough at the time, however, to be a political force and push back against those who preached hellfire and damnation.

But as the impact of HIV/AIDS increased and existing health services failed to keep up, the Sisters stepped in to help and began raising money and speaking out about sexual health. In 1982, the Sisters joined with area medical professionals to write and distribute "Play Fair!," one of the first pamphlets to use plain language to explain and promote safer sex.

As years passed and the treatment and prevention of HIV infections have changed, so have the Sisters. Now they spread awareness of viral suppression therapies and PrEP, in addition to condoms and other risk reduction practices.

The Sisters have become a global phenomenon, with chapters in Europe, South America, and Australia. The Seattle chapter, the Abbey of Saint Joan, was founded in July 1996 by Sisters Naga Baba Ganesh, Madonna Supermodel of the World, Maria Caffeina Mocha Latté, Eva Destruction, and Carmina Piranha. Over the last 26 years, they have raised and distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants supporting Washington state LGBTQIA+ organizations, women's causes, and homeless youth.

This summer, the Abbey of Saint Joan is celebrating its 25th + 1 anniversary with "Inquisition!" Saturday July 16 at CC Seattle (1701 E. Olive Way) from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. For a small donation, participants may confess their sins and receive their penance. Sisters will be available to administer flogging, spanking, paddling, and public humiliation.

More information is available at https://theabbey.org/.