Of all the nuns and orders of nuns in New Orleans, the most fabulous is The Big Easy Sisters, Parish of the Muddy Waters.
The Big Easy Sisters are an order of 21st century queer nuns. Their primary goal, in their own words, is “to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt or, in other words, we are the clowns of our community and we banish any negative energy. We are also here to help raise money for underfunded charities in our community.”
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence originated in San Francisco in 1979 during Easter weekend. Three friends—Ken Bunch, Fred Brungard, and Baruch Golden—paraded through the streets wearing traditional nun’s habits, one carrying a machine gun. Later that fall, Edmund Garron and Bill Graham attended the first international Faerie Gathering in Arizona, where they met others interested in becoming Sisters.
Chapters, or “Houses,” of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence began popping up all over the country. Today, the Sisters have an international presence with houses throughout Europe and even one in Uruguay.
The New Orleans House began in 2012 when Michael Morris (Imma Getaround) and Michael Maldonado (Moanalot Fontaine) met at Rue de la Course and decided to start a local Sisters group. The process was involved. The United Nuns Privy Council requires an “Aspirant House” to have at least six members before it is elevated to a “Mission House.”
On August 19, 2013, after a vote of the UNPC, the Big Easy Sisters became an official mission house. At that time, the founding sisters were: Abbess Moana Moans-A-Lott; Mistress of Novices Glory Bea DiVine; Mistress of Quill Cathi Terr; Mistress of Coins Eileen Eulick; and Wilma Ballsdrop, Mary Pat McCooter, AuJus, Rainblow Bites, Nunsexmunkrock, Ten Buck U, and Izzy Haute. In January 2015, the UNPC voted to elevate the Big Easy Sisters to a fully professed house.
Houses are hierarchically organized, and membership involves four levels: Aspirant, Postulant, Novice, Fully Professed. Aspirants are those who want to join the House and are required to attend meetings and a few manifestations. A manifestation is when the Sisters make public appearances wearing makeup and their regalia. Normally, one or more guards accompany the sisters when they manifest. Members choose to be either sisters or guards at the Postulant level. During the Novice period, which lasts a minimum of six months, the novitiate must produce a project that benefits the House or the community.
The Abbess, or Mistress of the House, of the Big Easy Sisters is Glory Bea. Originally from Wichita Falls, Texas, Glory Bea moved to New Orleans with her partner in 2012. In Texas, Glory Bea studied Theater at Texas Tech and was later involved with the Imperial Court System of Texas and the Dallas Bears. Glory Bea also served as a mentor in the Houston House.
When asked about the biggest misconception people have about the Sisters, Glory Bea says, “People think we’re straight street performers or odd drag queens who don’t perform.”
The Sisters, however, are neither of those things. Rather, they are a highly structured, benevolent organization that raises awareness and money for local causes.
Guard Ken DelPo says, “For me it’s a chance to reach out to the larger community, to support our LGBT+ friends and community. Also, on a personal level, for me it is part of ‘Tikkun olam’, which means in Hebrew ‘Healing the world’. It’s a small part to make the world a better place than I found it.”
The Big Easy Sisters have put their money where their mouths are. Since 2012, they have contributed money to a wide variety of local charities including Belle Reve, Buzzy’s Boys and Girls, St. Anna’s food pantry, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, and several other organizations. In addition, the Big Easy Sisters have participated in the annual Southern Decadence parade, assisted gay Carnival krewes during their balls, marched in the NO/AIDS walk, attended the 40th anniversary memorial for the Up Stairs Lounge fire, participated in Pride festivals, and hosted All Saints Day/Day of the Dead events.