They’re an order of nuns with a presence in more than 30 countries around the world. Their calling: to perform acts of charity for those in need, and to fight for social change. They represent, in every way that matters, a model of compassion and moral conviction at work.
Except that they’re mostly gay men wearing makeup, nun’s habits and brassieres on their heads. And some people have a bit of an issue with that.
Say hello to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Part social justice movement, part religious drag act, the Sisters have been doing good works, challenging intolerance and making many people apoplectic for more than 30 years.
After a 25-year absence, the Sisters have put down new roots in Canada with the Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe in Vancouver. And now, the glitter and glory of their outrageous life and times is the subject of an original ichannel documentary by award-winning writer/director Kevin O’Keefe.
ichannel, Canada’s political and social issues network, presents the world television premiere of Bad Habits: The Return of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on Sunday, October 16 at 9 pm ET/PT. Contact your television service provider for details.
Founded in San Francisco in the late 1970s with the goal of serving the community and confronting homophobia, the Sisters combine social activism with a flair for flamboyant theatricality and wicked satire. Born just as the AIDS crisis was dawning, they have been at the forefront of the battle against this disease, promoting safe sex, raising funds for care and treatment, and fighting to counter the stigma experienced by many sufferers.
For all their high-camp trappings, the Sisters consider themselves real nuns with a calling to serve. Many devout Catholics, however, find this potent brew of sexuality, gender and religion impossible to swallow. One Catholic activist in San Francisco, in fact, has taken his opposition to the Sisters all the way to the Vatican. “This is blasphemy,” he tells filmmaker Kevin O’Keefe. “This is evil.”
It’s not just the religious who find the Sisters troubling, either. Their deliberate courting of controversy and outrage has put them at odds with those in the gay community who seek mainstream acceptance. It was just such a conflict, in fact, that led to the disbanding of the Toronto order in 1986.
To some, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence may seem like a relic from a bygone era of radical gay activism. But with HIV infection rates in the gay community up almost 50 percent since the early 1990s, their efforts on behalf of AIDS prevention are, if anything, more relevant than ever.
Last year, the fledgling Abbey of the Long Cedar Canoe was founded in Vancouver, the Sisters’ first Canadian chapter in a quarter-century. Led by Novice Sister Merry Quite Contrary, they have thrown themselves headlong into the great mission of the order “to promulgate universal joy, expiate stigmatic guilt and serve the community”, which in practice means everything from handing out condoms in bars to providing sleeping bags for the homeless of Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence clearly are ready to make their presence felt again in Canada. But is Canada ready for the Sisters?
Bad Habits: The Return of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Sunday, October 16 at 9 pm ET/PT
Contact your local television service provider to subscribe or visit www.ichannel.ca for more information.