Groups protest Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at Dodgers’ Pride Night

Feelings of indignation and anger fueled by religious conservatives culminated in a protest Friday afternoon at Dodger Stadium over the honoring of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a satirical performance and activist organization made up of queer nuns in drag that are considered blasphemous by some Christians.

Protesters gathered for a “prayerful procession” at Parking Lot 13 outside Dodger Stadium before the team’s 10th annual Pride Night, where the organization will receive an award for its decades of community ministry ahead of the game against the San Francisco Giants.

Helicopters hovered above as hundreds of demonstrators, most of them wearing red, began to gather in the parking lot. The demonstrators passed out rosaries and held up flags with religious imagery, images of Jesus Christ and homemade signs — including ones reading, “Long Live Christ the King!” and “Shame on the Dodger’s organization.”

The demonstration came hours after Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez spent part of Friday’s afternoon Mass criticizing the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

“Religious freedom and respect for the beliefs of others are hallmarks of the nation,” he said. “When God is insulted, when the beliefs of many of our neighbors are ridiculed, it diminishes all of us.”

Outside the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A., a lone protester used a bullhorn and fliers to alert people to the demonstration at the stadium. He was disappointed that the archdiocese didn’t provide shuttles to the site.

The Sisters were founded in San Francisco in 1979 by a trio of gay men who dressed in a modified version of a nun’s habit. The longtime charity organization has administered to the LGBTQ+ community in the form of AIDS fundraisers, safe-sex pamphlets and condom distributions ever since.

Controversy erupted shortly after the Dodgers announced they were honoring the Sisters. The club rescinded its Community Hero Award after backlash from the right, then apologized and reinvited the organization following an outcry from LGBTQ+ groups.

It’s not the work of the nonprofit nuns, who claim they are “promulgating universal joy and expiating stigmatic guilt,” that has drawn the ire of religious groups and leaders, but their use of Christian tradition and imagery.

The San Francisco chapter hosted a “Hunky Jesus” and “Foxy Mary” competition this Easter, while other events have featured a pole-dancing Jesus Christ-like figure on a cross.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has said that the group “desecrates the Cross, profanes the Eucharist, and disrupts holy Mass” and “has caused disappointment, dismay, and pain in [the] Catholic community.”

The Michigan-based conservative media group Church Militant, which claims to “battle against sin, the devil and the demonic,” called the Sisters an anti-Catholic group that “blasphemously mocks God, the Crucifixion, Catholicism and nuns.” The group has called on viewers to join the protest, while others can check out the site’s livestream.

Friday’s protest is being organized in part by Catholics for Catholics, a Phoenix-based 501(c)(4) organization that counts retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who previously pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as a senior advisor.

The group has called the Sisters “Godless” and “Christ-mocking” and is offended by their motto, “Go forth and sin some more,” which it says ridicules Christ’s command in the Bible, “Go, and sin no more.”

Catholics for Catholics is planning for “thousands to protest at Dodger Stadium.” The group, which did not respond to emailed requests for comment, posted online that it wants a “peaceful procession” and is asking participants to avoid bringing posters with “political images or messages.”

Richard Zaldivar — founder of the Wall Las Memorias Project, a community and wellness organization serving Latinos and the LGBTQ+ community — said some of the Catholic leaders who have criticized the Sisters are part of a conservative sect of the church that has opposed Pope Francis on a number of issues.

“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are being used as a target for homophobic attacks,” Zaldiva said. “The continued posturing drives our LGBT [Latino] members back into the closet by family members, which places them at risk for HIV, substance use issues, homelessness and suicide. We should not inflame an already toxic polarized community.”

Anti-LGBTQ+ education protests in North Hollywood and Glendale this month have been tense, violent at times and, in the case of the latter, reportedly drew members of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.

A prayer vigil organized by Christian groups was held outside the state Capitol on June 5. During an LGBTQ+ Pride Month ceremony that afternoon, members of the Legislature honored one of the more popular drag nuns, Sister Roma, for promoting safe-sex education and trash cleanup.

Some Republicans walked off the legislative floors in protest.

Julie Rubio, a professor and theologian of Christian social ethics at Santa Clara University, said the controversy around the Sisters is a continuation of the national culture wars over LGBTQ+ rights.

She likens the Sisters’ conflict to Florida’s battles over what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans all public school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in the state.

“You have people on the right asking, ‘Is there no line that can’t be crossed? Is nothing sacred?’” Rubio said. “On the left, however, there’s this question about, ‘Is there no understanding of parody, humor and complexity of speech?’”

Rubio said that common ground will be found only when each side stops looking at the other’s extreme views.

“Is it possible to see the Sisters for the work they do and realize this is not hate or bigotry?” she said. “Is it possible to see that religious view this as desecration and perhaps a line can be established? It’s complicated.”

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report