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The wool from the black sheep is just as warm.
--Sister Margaretta, The Sound of Music

The Plains Are Alive

For over forty years, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have been a beloved aspect of queer/drag culture, assisting the community by means of activism, fundraising for charity, outreach, and sometimes just being in the right place at the right time to turn heads. We draw our roots from, of all places, Iowa City in 1976. Free spirited theater kid Kenneth Bunch was in charge of costuming for a local production of The Sound of Music, and in the name of authenticity, he went to a convent and bought some old habits that belonged to nuns that had passed away. A year later, Bunch moved to San Francisco which had developed a reputation as a gay haven. And he happened to bring his habits--all of them--with him.

Whiteface: Why It Gotta Be White?!

By the end of the 70's, Bunch and some friends started going out in nun drag in the Castro District, partly as a protest against the hyper-masculine aesthetic that was prevelant among gay men in San Francisco at the time, and partly as a counter-protest against the firebrand reverends who would march down the steet loudly preaching about the neighborhood's supposed evils. The original four Sisters consisted of Bunch (aka Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch), Fred Brungard (Sister Missionary Position), Edmond Garron (Sister Hysterectoria), and Bill Graham (Reverend Mother). Their first manifest was Easter Sunday 1979, complete with a machine gun for protection. Eventually they upgraded their habits with 14th century cornettes to truly convey an old-school nun vibe. The whiteface came about as an attempt to conceal the Sisters' identities; Bunch was a sex worker at the time and he preferred that his clients not know he did drag (as much as the Sisters hated the Castro's "masc-only" attitude, it was still paying the bills). In time, the cornettes and whiteface became emblematic of the Sisters as a whole, with each city designing a distinct cornette that often reflects the local culture.

Blessed Be The Fruit

In 1980, the Sisters of San Francisco held their first-ever fundraiser: a bingo at the Metropolitan Community Church benefitting gay Cuban refugees. Before long, the Sisters' influence began to spread and the second House in the world was founded in Sydney, soon followed by one in Toronto. As the AIDS epidemic reached crisis levels in 1982, the Sisters were there, advocating and raising funds for vulnerable communities the general public wouldn't touch: gay men, transgender women, sex workers, etc. The Sisters created "Play Fair!", the first safe sex pamphlet to offer nonjudgmental, practical advice on how to safely enjoy intercourse. One of the Sisters spearheading the project was Florence Nightmare, an HIV-positive nurse also known as Bobbi Campbell. In 1983, Campbell and his partner Bobby Hilliard appeared on the August 8 cover of Newsweek, bringing nationwide attention to AIDS and its affect on the LGBT+ community for the first time. Both men would pass away less than a year later, with Campbell becoming the first Nun of the Above (the title for deceased Sisters).

Nuns of Steel

In 1987, the fourth Sister House was founded in Seattle, the second in the United States. Over the next thirty years, dozens more would follow across the globe. As of this writing, there are about 100 active Houses in eleven countries on four continents, with the highest concentration being in the US, Germany, and France. The Pittsburgh House, known as The Abbey of the Trinity Rivers, was founded in the summer of 2016 in response to the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Our Founding Sisters were Petra Pyper Pictapekhov Pickled Peckers, Mary Fuck Kiel, RNGina Jenna Raider, Roxanna Hardplace, Coco Lopez Fitzgerald III, Tillie Screams, and Guard Fink Le Merkin. All queer activists who felt that the world, especially the LGBT+ community, needed more joy after such a dark moment. The election of Donald Trump in November of that year prompted the first wave of Aspirants to join to protest the growing hostility against minorities in the US, and the Steel City Sisters have been slowly expanding since.

Our cornette is based on the Three Sisters Bridges, a trio of identical steel suspension bridges conntecting downtown Pittsburgh to the North Shore. Each bridge is named after a famous Pittsburgher whose good works serve as our inspiration:

Whether we're working the door at a drag show, working the raffle tickets at Outrageous Bingo, working an angry protest, or just plain working it at the club, the Sisters will continue to do The Good Work in our little corner of the Rust Belt and beyond.