Republican lawmakers left the California State Assembly floor in protest on Monday as the chamber honored a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, Sister Roma, an activist and drag performer, was one of 15 guests who were honored by the California legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus during the annual ceremony marking Pride Month.
Discover the extraordinary world of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of queer nuns dedicated to activism through the art of drag performances.
Ahead of the ceremony, Republican state senators sent a letter to California Senate President pro temp Toni Atkins (D) asking the out lawmaker to withdraw Roma’s invitation, claiming that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an organization of drag nuns dedicated to community service and activism, make a mockery of Catholicism.
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“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, through their public disparagement of the Catholic Faith, have displayed a disregard for the principles of tolerance and understanding that should guide our society. Honoring them in the Senate Chambers would be inappropriate and contrary to the values we hold dear,” the letter read.
“The request to remove a philanthropic member of our LGBTQ+ community from the LGBTQ Caucus’ Pride Month honorees is a misguided distraction on the first day of Pride month,” Atkins wrote in her response. “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I respect my Republican colleagues, but I’m extremely disappointed in them for leaning in to polarization. I stand with the members of the LGBTQ Caucus – Sister Roma and all of this year’s honorees are deserving of being celebrated for their contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and California.”
When Roma stood to receive her award in the Assembly on Monday, Republican members left the floor as the remaining members and fellow honorees gave her what the Sacramento Bee described as a prolonged standing ovation.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who nominated Roma for the honor, described her as “one of the absolute best, most effective, and most respected community leaders in San Francisco.” He also accused his Republican colleagues of “caricaturing” her.
“If they really took the time to get to know her, they’d understand why I nominated her for this honor,” he said.
Meanwhile, outside the State Capitol, members of the American Council, the California Family Council, and the California Catholic Conference held a prayer vigil.
“We literally minister to our community. We spread joy, we feed the hungry, we provide supplies and care to the unhoused community, we minister to the sick, we support the youth,” Roma said in response to criticism of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, according to the Los Angeles Times. “My existence is not an attack on your faith. The problem is some people use their faith as an attack on my existence. My getting equal rights does not take your rights away. And your religious beliefs do not give you the right to discriminate against me.”
Roma, who joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 1987, described ministering to people suffering from HIV/AIDS and the stigma that went along with it in at the height of the epidemic in the 1980s. “The Sisters would go in search of these people, who were quite often hunched over a cocktail in a dark bar, and we would just sit down and engage them in conversation,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “At the end of that talk, quite often those people would ask for a hug, and the Sisters would always say yes.”
The organization, formed in San Francisco in 1979, has found itself in the spotlight this Pride season as anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans in state legislatures across the country continue to push laws banning gender-affirming care and cracking down on drag performances.
Last month, the L.A. Dodgers invited the Los Angeles chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to be honored at the team’s June. 16 Pride Night event. Following outcry from Catholic organizations and Republican politicians, the Dodgers rescinded their invitation, leading to backlash from the LGBTQ+ community and allies, accusing the team of caving to pressure from anti-LGBTQ+ extremists. The Dodgers later reversed their decision, reinviting the Sisters to the upcoming event, offering “sincerest apologies to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and their friends and families.”