In 1979, Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch (Ken Bunch), Sister Missionary Position (Fred Brungard) and Baruch Golden took to the streets of San Francisco's Castro District on Easter Sunday wearing nun habits, which they had acquired from a convent to use in a production of The Sound of Music
. The three men marched through the city — carrying a machine gun for protection — and drew shock and awe from all who saw them. That fall, Sister Vicious PHB and Sister Missionary Position went to the first International Faerie gathering, where they met Reverend Mother (Bill Graham) and Sister Hysterectoria (Edmund Garron). Together, the four men founded the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
, an order of queer drag nuns that now has chapters all over the world, including Colorado's Golden Nugget Sisters
, which became the 57th "fully professed house" of the outfit on December 20, 2021.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a group of outrageous, envelope-pushing activists who use humor and irreverence to expose bigotry in the church and government. While they originally had ties to a spiritual organization called the Radical Faeries, the Sisters are not affiliated with any particular religious group. "You got Christians, you got Catholics, you got Buddhists, you got lots of Jewish nuns," says Sister Dottie Bair, a leading member of the Golden Nugget Sisters.
The Sisters raise awareness and funds for different queer causes, beginning with the first fundraiser in 1980 for gay Cuban refugees. "The Sisters accidentally came about at the same time as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, so the two just kind of merged together," explains Bair. "The Sisters hosted the very first HIV fundraiser. They were the first ones to put together little pamphlets that said, 'We don't know what this is, but here's how we think you can protect yourself, given what we do know.' The CDC actually ended up using that pamphlet."
According to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence mission statement, the group's goal is to "expiate stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy," particularly in the LGBTQ+ community. Says Bair, "A lot of that has to do with the fact that as queer people, we have been told a lot that we're not enough — we're not good enough, we're not right enough. When you're being raised by your family and given these messages, it really eats away at you inside. Every Sister's mission is to make sure that every person they meet knows that they are beautiful, they are loved and they are enough. We are spiritual creatures in a way, but it's not necessarily tied to religion. It's about giving people back a sense of ownership of their identity."
The Golden Nugget Sisters frequently show up to other charity events to bring visibility to their community work.
Novice Coitus Interuptus
Bair joined the Golden Nugget Sisters last summer, when the group was still working to become a fully professed house — a designation for orders officially voted into the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — but he had previously been part of the Abbey of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. He's known about the Sisters' work since his teenage years. "I have been a longstanding fan of the Sisters since I was fifteen. I used to read about them in Newsweek
when they were excommunicating the pope from San Francisco and stuff. As a punk-rock teen in Iowa, I was like, 'That's badass,'" he recalls.
But Bair hadn't considered joining the Sisters until a few years ago. "After Trump got elected, I kind of realized that I don't get clocked for a lot, walking around like this. Most people don't think twice about me unless I'm holding my husband's hand," he says. "I just realized there were a whole lot of people who had felt safe who were about to be very unsafe.
"I needed more skin in the game, plain and simple," he continues. "Walking out as a drag nun in Texas — you don't get much more 'skin in the game' than that. You are painfully aware every time you do it that your day could end at the end of a gun. It kept me honest and it kept me focused."
When Bair relocated to Colorado last summer, he was able to join the Golden Nugget Sisters immediately, as he had already reached fully professed member status in Texas. At the time, the Golden Nugget Sisters were a mission house, six months into the process of becoming a fully professed house. To complete that process, they had to undertake a certain number of "novice projects," which Bair says "can range from filling out the tax paperwork for the house to doing a fundraiser for one of the local charities. The real key is that it's something that serves the house or the community."
The Golden Nugget Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence currently comprise Sister CasKara, Sister Cheyenne de Mure, Sister Innocentia Vulgaris, Sister Minnie Dixon Snyder and Bair, as well as "guards" Marshall Jako, Squire Otto DeClosette, Squire Fleur de Lay and Neophyte Lix a'Latte. Traditionally, guards acted as the Sisters' behind-the-scenes protectors, but they can now be as involved and visible as the Sisters are. Many Sisters also have a "guard persona," for days when they just don't feel like getting into drag. While the Sisters are best recognized for their nun attire, they are free to wear whatever they want — even if it's just a jockstrap and a coronet.
The Golden Nugget Sisters often team up with Parasol Patrol to shield kids from hateful protesters at kid-friendly queer events.
Courtesy of the Golden Nugget Sisters
The Sisters use their unique appearances to draw attention and then redirect it to local nonprofit organizations. They have formed close relationships with groups including the Denver Cycle Sluts
, the Center on Colfax
and the Denver Democratic Socialists of America
, but Sisters are encouraged to pursue whatever causes or projects are meaningful to them.
"I was a homeless youth once, so a lot of my personal service mission is around helping the homeless community," Bair says. The Sisters recently organized a "Day of Hope" for the homeless in partnership with the Center on Colfax, where they provided food, clothes, mental health resources, showers, haircuts and more. The group hopes to make it a monthly event. There's still a core focus on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and education, as well. "There's a lot of discussion right now about something they refer to as HAND, or HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder," Bair notes. "A couple of our sisters are very passionate about that issue, so they've started a website called Helping HAND
, where they're gathering resources and pointing people toward information so that they'll be able to talk to their doctors about this. A lot of doctors still don't necessarily believe or understand it, but it's something that's increasingly becoming a topic of conversation in the HIV community."
Besides hosting fundraisers, blessing ceremonies and community outreach events, much of the group's work consists of what it calls "bar ministry."
"Bar ministry is where you end up having some of your most important Sister moments, and that's largely just bar-hopping. You go from one bar to the next in your Sister persona, you talk to people, you hand out little packages with condoms and lube, safe-sex information, where you can go for HIV testing and PrEP, that kind of stuff," Bair explains. He's been surprised at how vulnerable people are willing to get with a stranger in clown makeup, and has started carrying brochures of queer mental health resources for times when he is simply not equipped to provide the support people need. "People will confide really deeply personal things. That's why it's called ministry and not just bar-hopping," he adds.
From left to right, Sister Dottie Bair, Sister Minnie Dixon-Snyder, and Sister CasKara join protestors fighting for abortion rights at the Capitol.
As the Golden Nugget Sisters finish celebrating their first Pride as a fully professed house, the members are excited to continue uplifting Colorado's queer community. And, Bair clarifies, they are not here to ridicule anyone's religious beliefs, but rather to offer spiritual alternatives for those whom the church has traditionally shunned.
"It's not that we're making fun of religion," he says. "We're carving out a place where the queer community has repeatedly been told, 'You're not allowed here.' We're allowing people to reclaim that sense for themselves."
For more information on the Golden Nugget Sisters, visit the group's website.