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City Divided Over Drag Queen ‘Nuns’

March 24, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ San Francisco’s world-class reputation as a place where a guy can be himself _ or herself, for that matter _ has been sorely tested by a group of drag queens who dress like nuns.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are planning an Easter block party, an idea some Roman Catholics find offensive.

In their glittery makeup and false eyelashes, the ``nuns″ have shimmied and sashayed in their habits for 20 years, raising money for AIDS, breast cancer, youth groups and gay rights since the 1980s.

Block parties in San Francisco’s mostly gay Castro District are common, and when the Sisters sought a permit to close down a block of Castro Street for a party on their anniversary, the request got unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors earlier this month.

But last week, the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights protested. Issuing a permit to a group that ``mocks Catholics″ showed ``extraordinary insensitivity to people of all faiths,″ archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy said.

On Tuesday, Mayor Willie Brown and two other city officials backtracked, asking fellow supervisors to reconsider. ``I would hope that the Sisters could select some other day on which to do their thing,″ Brown said.

Supervisor Alicia Becerril proposed another date: April 11. But it turns out that’s the day the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Easter.

The Sisters said they’re not backing down. The party _ with its picnic baskets, performances and bonnet contest _ will go on, Sister Ann R. Key, one of the few women in the order, said Wednesday.

``Not everyone does exactly what the Catholic Church does or says to do on Easter Sunday,″ she said.

The order came into being in 1979, when a couple of men got dressed in the habits they acquired while doing ``The Sound of Music″ and went out to the Castro on Easter Sunday. Today, there are about 30 active members _ men and women, gay and straight _ and they go by names like Sister Hellen Wheels, Sister Penny Costal and Sister Reyna Terror.

Some of their antics have raised the ire of Catholics, including an ``exorcism″ during the pope’s visit in 1987 and their Condom Savior Mass, in which they celebrated the ``Latex Host.″

The Rev. Timothy Kenney, principal at Archbishop Riordan High School, said in letter to the San Francisco Chronicle that the city’s approval of the party ``was an insensitive and fearful decision by a hypocritical board that is extremist and seeks to be `politically correct’ in their anti-Catholic decision.″

Sister Ann said the group simply wants to do good: ``Our mission has always been to promulgate universal joy by manifesting habitually _ meaning, wearing the habit.″

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