The Bible states that God made Jesus in His image, but He probably didn’t expect Jesus to don robes of zebra-striped rainbow, or make out with his mother, Mary, or smoke a cigar while alluding to his genitals.
But all these iterations of the Son have appeared in San Francisco’s Dolores Park on one Easter weekend or another, hoping to snag victory at the coveted Hunky Jesus costume contest hosted by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. This year, the event will broadcast live on Twitch from the new Folsom Street Events studio in SoMa.
“The Easter celebration [when] we do is our big, free party to thank the community and give back. It provides people with an outlet; you have to have a sense of humor. And it’s so SF,” says the “most photographed nun in the world” Sister Roma. Easter weekend was also the inception of The Sisters themselves, here in San Francisco, back in 1979, so it’s also “the anniversary of Sisters everywhere.”
Last year, shelter-in-place orders squandered the possibility for the in-person event, which Roma estimates draws as many as 10,000 people every year, many of them to witness the resurrection pageant. But after the SF Queer Nightlife Fund and Folsom Street Events reached out about a partnership, The Sisters held an abridged version of the show online.
This year, the theme is “Rising Up With The Sisters,” an emergence not just from the nightmare of the pandemic, but the grief of the last four years under an administration rife with bigotry. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Honey Mahogany and Bay Area drag king Alex U. Inn will host a two-hour show of performances, a sainting ceremony for a new member, blessings from Sisters as far flung as Paris and, of course, determining the best Foxy Mary and Hunky Jesus of 2021. Sister Roma says that, despite the name, it’s not enough to just look like Jesus.
“The SF audience is not looking for a hunky dude in a Speedo and beard; the contestants who win are those who come up with a concept,” says Roma, whose personal favorites include a Gun Control Jesus and a bedazzled Viva Las Jesus.
While gawking at biblical impersonators is fun, the event, as with most Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence appearances, also serves as a fundraising opportunity for The Sisters Grant Fund program, which provide microgrants of up to $1,000 to underfunded “progressive grassroots projects that promote wellness, joy, tolerance and diversity within our communities,” per The Sisters’ website.
The lack of in-person events and the closure of venues over the past year have made the work harder, but The Sisters are planning to distribute $20,000 in grants, and have a special surprise for virtual attendees.
Local muralist and king of those honey bears you see everywhere, fnnch, has produced a special Sister Bear to be auctioned off, with 50% of the proceeds going to The Sisters’ fund. He’s also produced an 18-foot mural of Sister Bear on the side of Powerhouse bar, which sits at the corner of Folsom and Dore Streets and serves as a historical entry point of the Folsom Street Fair. There will be a mural unveiling at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
This year, Easter also coincides with the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, and Roma emphasizes that the show will include an tribute to his memory. Despite the anxiety and danger involved with simply leaving the house, The Sisters have made a point to show up for protests, marches and public health initiatives. There’s also plans to extend their Squeaky Clean Gutter Queens trash cleanup initiative into other counties beyond San Francisco.
“I think it’s important for people to know that despite quarantine, The Sisters have been very aware of what’s been going on,” says Roma, who recently spoke at a Stop Asian Hate rally in the Castro. “You have to speak out when people need you.”
* Tune in to the “Rising Up With The Sisters event Sunday, April 4, 1–3 p.m. on https://www.twitch.tv/sfqueernightlifefund, and all Jesus and Mary hopefuls can send their photos and bio information to email@example.com.