celebrating 21 years
The Manchester Sisters are 21 years of age this August 2017! It's at the same time as Manchester Pride so there will LOTS to do over that weekend. Stay here for details of what we are doing or go here for more details of Manchester Prides Big Weekend.
Saturday - The Big Parade.
If you are a visiting Sister, then we cordially invite you to march with us on the Big Parade, one of the biggest Pride parades in Europe! Meet from 11.30am at Castlefield Heritage Park - here's a map. Manchester Pride require us to have a list of names of those walking, so please ensure you email firstname.lastname@example.org just to let her know.
Then after the Big Parade, we will be raising awareness and collecting essential funds right in the heart of the Gay Village, for the Manchester Pride Charity.
In the evening, it's fun through to the early house (in or out of face - your choice). A small number of free tickets to club events will be available.
Sunday - not a day of rest!
Late breakfast we'll take visiting Sisters to a great British cafe (out of habit), and just catching up with the gossip from Sister Houses from around the world.
Evening, out of habit, either collapse in a heap or get out and party - you only live once!
We'll be going to Handsome (off Oxford Street), if you'd like to join us. Here's the link.
Evening: The Candlelit Memorial Service in Sackville Gardens. Many people will be speaking at the service that is attended by thousands. Our very own Sister BangBang will be one of the speakers. Then it ends in an amazing firework display!
There are more things to come on our little agenda - so if you're a Sister then keep this page book marked!
Sister Roma, from San Francisco, has been all over the world and is visiting the UK for the first time during Manchester Pride for the Manchester Sisters 21st birthday celebrations. Celebrated as a Sister Of Perpetual Indulgence for over 30 years, she has helped raise many thousands of dollars for charity.
If that wasn't enough, she has been on numerous television and radio shows, talking about the importance of acceptance, caring and fighting for human rights all over the world.
And not only is she a renowned film director but also an ordained minister (yes, Sister Roma can marry you and your partner!) and a celebrity in her own right. And she's on her way to Manchester Pride celebrations at the end of August to promote diversity and spread joy! She'll also be hosting a group discussion for all Sisters.
Sister BangBang managed to sit down with Sister Roma and enjoyed finding out a little more about what makes her life so amazing
Hi Sister Roma - it's so good to speak with you! We see so much of you Sister Roma and you are known as the most photographed nun in the solar system now, aren’t you?
Absolutely. Well, that is 100% made up, by me! And can I tell you the background to that title? I was out, one time, at a street fair here in San Francisco with thousands of people, and the Sisters are always in the public eye and people wanted loads of photographs. And I had been out all day and I came back to my friend Jay’s apartment, and I just threw myself inside and down onto the couch and said “oh, I’m SO exhausted and the next person to ask me for a photo I’m just going to be urrrghhhh” and I was bitching and moaning and he said “well, you’d better enjoy it while you can because one day no one will want a photo of you”.
And what he said really hit me and I realised on so many levels that I was just being so ungrateful and I felt terrible the minute he said that. And he was 100% true and we have to embrace and enjoy every single minute.
So to this day, I absolutely always accept every request for a photo and in thirty years I have become, possibly, one of the most photographed nuns in the world!
And that kind of reflects that, as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, you are public property?
In many respects, yes, you are. You put yourself out there. You don’t get dressed the way we do, wear the make up we do, and put ourselves on the front line the way we do not to get noticed and I am always very humbled and flattered that anyone would want to take a photograph. However, my friends, who may be with me at some of these events get irritated and say “Girl, we’ll see you on the other end of the fair because we know you’ll be creeping your way through this crowd all day."
But one of the greatest things that I love about being a Sister is the one on one interactions with people. We do so many things on a grand scale, in the public, we stand on stages and we lead marches and shout loud and proud but the most important is the way we develop one on one relationships with people.
Can I take you back, Sister Roma, to the time over 30 years ago when you saw the Sisters out and about and thought ‘they look interesting, I want to join them’.
Absolutely. I had been in San Francisco for two years. I had a great job in the financial district and I was pretty much living the gay dream. And I was out having a drink with friends one day, in the Midnight Sun which is a video bar here in the Castro, and it’s one of those places where people stand and look at the video screens at whatever clips are showing and all of a sudden the door blew open, and in walked this show girl/drag queen/ clown nun and everyone’s attention was diverted to them and I thought “What the hell is that?” And she walked in with a giant fan on her face, and greeted everyone by name and I was so blown away by this – I had never seen anyone like this. It was Sister Lucious Lashes.
And basically, she just came up to me at Happy Hour and said “Hi, Michael”, which is my real name which I never use, and I was like ‘do I know you?’ And he said “It’s Norman!” and I said “what ARE you doing?” This Sister turned out to be my dear friend, Norman!
And I’d been friends with him for a year and he’d never told me about this! And from that day on I became more involved with the group and met more of the other Sisters, and manifested with them as a boy. And one day we were going to be cheerleaders for the softball team and he said ‘why don’t you just try the make up…’. And the rest is history!
How important was getting the make up right?
Well, I’d never done drag before in my life. I didn’t know what to do, so he helped me put on the white face, then he stuck me in front of the mirror, gave me some paints and just said ‘paint whatever comes into your head. Whatever feels natural. ’.
So, my first face was very tribal, like war paint. Lots of really sharp angles and triangles. It was rough around the edges – it was my first time! I thought I looked ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!
And when I went out onto the Castro that day I was looking at my reflection in every mirror that I could find! I fell in love with myself so much!
But I have to say that I was aiming for that self confidence and self love that everyone strives for, and people respond to very positively because when you have a lot of confidence in what you’re doing, even if you’re a ridiculous drag queen nun, if you believe in what you’re doing it will inspire others with confidence and joy and love, they’ll buy it.
And of course, when we dress up, you don’t do it to hide away, you use it as a gimmick to get a result. To get a response, to get money out of people – that kinda of thing.
Well, yes. When I joined the Sisters there were very few active ones in the world, and in San Francisco, at that time.
But there was an increase in attention to us – Sister BoomBoom had run as a a candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and also tried to run for Mayor.
Bobbi Campbell became the AIDS poster boy and he contributed to PlayFair, the world’s first Safer Sex pamphlet which the Sisters created – so The Sisters were well known, but there was a lot of confusion and stigma around the Order.
It took a long time before we became trusted leaders in the community so that when people saw us out they knew we had a purpose. And it all started, as you know BangBang, it all started around HIV and AIDS, where the Sisters really found their focus.
And the first to hold fundraisers for those who were sick and dying of what they then called GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Which of course, later on, we realised was AIDS.
You mention about the work then, and even now, about the work we do around HIV and AIDS is still so important, but if I can take you back, Sister Roma, more than 30 years ago and ask you what were you doing back then that gave you the confidence to work as a Sister?
I had a really great childhood – I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was a very Christian community. I was raised Catholic, but our family was pretty relaxed about all that. I had the chance to go to convent school but I chose a public high school because it was just beautiful and I wanted to stay with my class friends.
I was class president there for four years and then when I went to college. I always had a certain amount of confidence and I think it’s because of my mother who raised me to believe that whoever I am and whatever I did as long as my intentions were pure, then I would be OK. I remember being determined to work in the book store at college and became known as ‘that gay guy in the bookstore’!
And I was absolutely fine with it. The interesting thing though, even with my four years at a Catholic University, I was never inspired to anything spiritual or civic minded or stuff for charity at all. Until I met the Sisters in San Francisco.
Oh, that’s interesting – so are you saying that the Sisters were like a catalyst in your life then?
Yes! When I got to realise what the Sisters were, and what they stood for, they open my eyes and expanded my mind to a whole new level. I always say it’s like a light bulb went off – literally exploded! Oh my god, I care about my community, I care about civil rights. Civil rights are mine – I don’t have to ASK for them. They are mine already. I’m demanding them! They really just activated this whole thing about making the world a better place. We’re here for such a short time. And I just want it to be a much better place.
The San Franciscan House is well respected, and you are seen as a pillar of the community. We see you, and what you and the other Sisters do thanks to Facebook and Twitter. But going back to that first time, when you became a Sister, can you remember the first mistake you ever made?
Oh wow, that’s a really great question! You know, it’s very much a learning process becoming a Sister. It’s not instant. I really believe that Sisters answer a calling. Similar to religions. I believe Sisters are born, not made. I’ve seen many try to join an order of the Sisters and it just didn’t work. But I had to learn about humility which wasn’t easy. It’s real easy for things to go to your head.
It’s very easy to think that everything is about you. In the beginning, especially when I was hosting night club parties, and on stage at Gay Pride, and a lot of the Sisters thought I was a show-off and really questioned my intentions. And it took a long time for a lot of people to understand that I really was dedicated to the hard work that the Sisters do, and that every one has a certain talent!
I’m very much in the public eye because I’m good at it. We’re in columns and magazines and websites, I’ve done compering – done all sorts of things on stage. All that stuff. But for me and the other Sisters, the really important role that Sisters do is that we’re out meeting meeting.
Feeding the hungry, giving out meals, ministering to intravenous drug users, going to LGBT youth groups and talking to people, helping them work through issues. We speak at colleges and universities.
That’s the real work of the Sisters. We help people, but this work literally saved my life too. It pulled me in.
As you say, it’s like ‘calling’?
It is. You know, sometimes when you’re getting ready and you want your make-up to be just flawless and I’m sat there and worrying about how my eyebrows are not exactly right, and then you realise that it’s not about you. And that’s when I look in the mirror and say ‘get your ass out of this chair, and go and do this work!’.
That’s not to say that the makeup is not fun – it is. It’s very transformative, it conceals a lot of sins and covers the years up!
There are so many fantastic people that respond positively to us when they see us, and you know there’s also a lot of people who are not sure what they are looking at but they appreciate there’s a lot of skill, time involved.
The early Sister did not wear white-face. And they still don’t in Australia, where I have just been as a guest at their Mardi Gras. They prefer to stick to the old ways that the Sisters did it. I like the story I heard that some Sisters were escorts and didn’t want their clients to find out what other stuff they did!
There are various stories going around about why some Sisters do white-face and some don’t. Yours is fun though! I certainly feel that I’m transformed into a bit of a painted whore. I do remember seeing one of your YouTube videos, where you were sat down putting on your make up and saying that this was an important part – a ritual, almost – where you got yourself into the right mind set and thought about what being a Sister really was for you.
Yeah. For over 30 years now I have literally become ‘Roma’ – that’s who I am. Certainly everyone calls me ‘Roma’ whether I dressed in drag or out of drag.
So are you prepared to come over to Manchester and take on all our amazing city and culture?
I am so absolutely looking forward to seeing you all! I’m so embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to Great Britain at all. I’ve been to Paris and I was with Sister Vish for Sydney Pride in 2016. But, of course, it’s always been my dream to come to the UK and I would love to join in the fun at Manchester Pride! It's a huge opportunity to help others and spread joy.
I was part of Prague Pride last year, and I do travel quite extensively through the United States. I speak out a lot about the work of the Sisters, so people can understand who we are and what we do. And I do love to meet other Sisters around the world and it’s one of my goals to come to Manchester! One of my dear friends, Mickey Taylor, who’s a singer and porn star who lives in Manchester and he always says how amazing it is and I should come visit.
And I’ve already met some of your outstanding queens like Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic and Liquorice Black – I really love them! And, of course, your Manchester House is celebrating 21 years this years – and that’s amazing! Congratulations!
Thank you! It will be such an honour to welcome you here, as it always is an honour to see any fabulous Sister here in Manchester. You'll be busy!
There’s always an issue that needs to be brought to light and there’s always a way to rally the crowd. Our community needs to remember to stick together, and at times like Pride we have so much to be proud of. If you think back to the 80’s, our community really did show the rest of the world how to respond to the plague that was AIDS.
We’ve fought so hard for so many rights and it’s so important that we love our community, that we love each other and we love ourselves.