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Peg M. Hardt, Shiny Brite and Kenya Nott are founding members of the Chicago chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an international order of queer and trans "nuns" who do outreach and fundraise for LGBTQ+ organizations. Credit: Ronit Bezalel/Ecoglobalsociety

LAKEVIEW — If you attended the Renegade Craft Fair in Andersonville a few weeks ago, you might have seen three towering figures strolling along Clark Street in veils, drag makeup, facial hair and high heels.

Sisters Kenya Nott, Peg M. Hardt and Shiny Brite are three founding members of the Second City Sisters, an aspiring local chapter, or house, of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an international group of queer and trans “nuns” whose outreach focuses on safer sex and sex positivity while fundraising for LGBTQ+ organizations.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence was founded in 1979 in San Francisco by a group of gay men who donned nun's habits on Easter Sunday and roller skated through San Francisco's Castro District, at the time the epicenter of the gay rights movement. The group imitates Roman Catholic nuns and their tagline is “go forth and sin some more.”

The organization, which “uses humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit,” according to the group's website, has grown to over 65 houses across 10 countries, and its members have raised more than $1.5 million for charity, according to the group.

“We're a group of individuals organized around a calling, which is to serve two chief vows: to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt,” said Sister Merry Mae-Kin, Second City Sisters founding member.

Over the years, the group's also been the subject of controversy and the target of outrage from religious groups and politicians who say the organization makes a mockery of Catholicism.

Second City Sister Peg M. Hardt greets Nina Kavin at the Renegade Craft Fair in Andersonville in May 2024. Credit: Ronit Bezalel/Ecoglobalsociety

The first Chicago chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Abbey of The Windy City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, formed in 2009. Its fundraising activities included chili cook-offs and cupcake wars. The members marched in the Chicago Pride Parade and hosted a weekend Sister Synod Convention with workshops on activism, same-sex abuse and suicide prevention.

The Abbey of The Windy City Sisters became less active during the pandemic. Enter a collection of retired Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Sisters from around the country — and a few like-minded Chicagoans — determined to form a new house. They found each other with the help of the United Nuns Privy Council, which governs the formation of new houses in North America, said Nott.

Around the same time, Mae-King, a Chicago transplant from Kentucky who has performed as a drag queen and works in the arts, contacted the United Nuns Privy Council about reviving a Chicago-area chapter.

“We talked and decided, all right, let’s make a go out of forming a house. There’s plenty of work to do here in Chicago. And we got to it,” she said. “It's good to be able to work in a queer space and work on queer issues for something that has nothing to do with the aspect of monetary or financial gain.”

In February, the group formed the Second City Sisters, which currently has 14 members, Nott said. One of the members was a founder of the previous Chicago chapter, she said.

Second City Sister Shiny Brite at the Renegade Craft Fair in Andersonville in 2024. Credit: Ronit Bezalel/Ecoglobalsociety

The group has been busy undertaking “ministries of presence,” where they meet people, listen to their struggles and make them laugh. Its mission is to expand that beyond the “gayborhoods” of Andersonville and Northalsted, members said.

“Anytime we can spread some joy, some happiness, some glitter — that is what we’re about,” Nott said.

The members said they don't use their real names in public or divulge many details of their personal or professional lives outside of their work as Sisters to maintain anonymity while building trust with those they aim to help.

“There is a lot of power in our work in anonymity, and I like to keep my Sister and secular lives very separate,” Nott said.

Nott joined the Orlando house in 2013 at 22 after finishing grad school. At school, she was active in the gay-straight alliance and subsequently as a Sister, and she was drawn to helping queer youth, she said.

Nott said many Sisters experience an “aha” moment. Hers occurred after the Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando in 2016. She knew someone who was killed, and she felt a strong spiritual calling to show up at the vigils, she said.

Kenya Nott of Second City Sisters, a group of queer and trans “nuns,” takes a selfie with Elizabeth Wyman at the Renegade Craft Fair in Andersonville in May 2024. Credit: Ronit Bezalel/Ecoglobalsociety

When asked whether the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is anti-Catholic as critics have argued, Mae-King referenced the book “Queer Nuns.” In it, author and religious scholar Melissa M. Wilcox argues that the Sisters employ “serious parody” to challenge entrenched power dynamics. This approach provides crucial support to LGBTQ+ communities AND serves as a blueprint for larger scale activism, Wilcox wrote.

“We embody this ‘serious parody' and manifest in a way that connects with the queer community, many of which have been subjected to religious trauma. We’re here for the community, we’re here to be safe for them,” Mae-King said.

Second City Sisters hosted its inaugural fundraiser Saturday in Andersonville to support a refugee who is being relocated to Chicago through Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit that helps LGBTQ+ people escape state-sponsored violence. Other activities on the Second City Sisters' calendar include marching in the Chicago Pride Parade June 30 and attending Pride South Side July 6.

Those interested in joining the Second City Sisters can message the Sisters on Instagram: @kenyanott, @sistermerrymaeking, @sisterpegm.hardt and @sistershinybrite.

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