Today in History: A Priest and Some Sisters

Jim Burroway

January 10th, 2008

On January 10, 1977, Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore of New York ordained the Rev. Ellen Marie Barrett to the priesthood. Her ordination into the diaconate in December 1975 had gone largely unnoticed. But her priestly ordination was marked by a storm of controversy throughout the Church and the secular press. Rev. Barrett had previously served with James Wickliff as the first co-presidents of Integrity, the LGBT Episcopal organization.

Coincidentally, on this same date in 1980, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence founded a “convent” in San Francisco. Originally a form of camp street theater, the controversial nuns soon took on more serious efforts when they became among the earliest bay-area AIDS charities at a time when few other established churches and organizations deigned to pitch in.

Their work didn’t end there. The Sisters helped organize the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil, and one of the Sisters created the rainbow flag, which is now the defining symbol of the gay rights movement. The sisters have raised more than $1 million in San Francisco alone and have benefited such groups as the Breast Cancer Network, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and the Gay Games. The Sisters continue to bring meals to those who can no longer care for themselves, and they fund alternative proms for LGBT youth.

And through it all, they continue to be the favorite targets of many religious-right organizations, many of which still show scant evidence of performing the charitable work that the Sisters do. Ironic, isn’t it?

Update: Okay, I’ve had two historical errors coming from the same source. That source also gave me the wrong date for the Kinsey report. Lesson: Don’t believe everything you read without verifying it from other sources. Which, of course, is why I started this web site to begin with. How embarrassing….

Peterson Toscano

January 10th, 2008

Jim, I really appreciate these posts about our history. It reminds me that we are a people with a history and it affirms the amazing work of those who have gone before us.


January 13th, 2008

I think you’re mistaken…the pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker. Correct me if I’m wrong though.

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2008

Jaft, You’re right. Apparently the source I was using was confused by the fact that Gilbert Baker is a member (going by the name “Sister Chanel 2001”). The Pride flag does pre-date the sisters however, so I’ve struck out the reference.

Sister Iona

January 14th, 2008

The actual first apperance of the Sisters is Easter Sunday 1979.

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2008

Okay, I’ve got a source that I’m throwing away… Two errors in one month!…

Thanks Sister. I’ll get it right on Easter (When was Easter in 1979?!?)

Sister Iona

January 15th, 2008

4/15/79 was Easter Sunday that year.

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