The Order’s History

The roots of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reach back to the late 70s of the last century. It was the Saturday after the Good Friday of 1979 when the first Sisters appeared in San Francisco. This group of gay men earned themselves a reputation in the following two years by organizing unusual events, raising their voice in the range of politics, and participating in protest marches and demonstrations.

In 1982 AIDS began to spread massively through San Francisco's gay community. And so the Sisters decided to publish “Play Fair”, the world’s first safer sex brochure to use a sex-positive language to give useful advice concerning STIs and how to prevent them. It was also the first safer sex brochure to employ a humorous language without overstressing the moral imperative. AIDS prevention soon became the main impetus in the Sisters’ work. They were also the first to organize charity events for people infected with AIDS – at that time a new and unknown disease. They were supported by the actress Shirley McLaine.

The “gay men in nun’s drag” were the basis for today’s appearance of the Sisters. Apart from some regional exceptions all Sisters of the Order can be recognized by their whiteface, which is probably their best-known feature. It symbolizes death, which is countered by the individual colourful make-up, symbolizing life and joy.

The idea of the Sisters and their work and philosophy has spread around the world since 1981. Apart from the International Mother House in San Francisco there are, among others, houses in Los Angeles, Russian River, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Philadelphia, and Seattle. The first house outside the USA was founded in Sydney, Australia. From here several other houses were established in all the big cities of Australia, in New Zealand, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Since 1991 houses of the Order were established in Europe as well, in France, England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. By now there are even houses in Columbia, Chile, and Uruguay, which is especially remarkable, since being openly gay or lesbian can still be very dangerous there.

Today there are more than 1.500 Sisters world-wide who have devoted an important part of their life to the fight against AIDS – and of course any other STI as well. The international community of the Sisters has collected several millions of Dollars as donations for institutions fighting AIDS and HIV and they have given away tons of brochures and even more condoms and other safer sex materials.

And you know what history is like: It never stops, but goes on and on…