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California

California GOP steps out, nun gains LGBTQ pride

Sister Roma and Sisters of Eternal Indulgence will be hugged Monday by Rep. Gail Perelin (Santa Cruz Democrat). She was honored along with other members of the LGBTQ community during Pride Month on the legislative floor of the State Capitol.

Sister Roma and Sisters of Eternal Indulgence will be hugged Monday by Rep. Gail Perelin (Santa Cruz Democrat). She was honored along with other members of the LGBTQ community during Pride Month on the legislative floor of the State Capitol.

hamezcua@sacbee.com

Protest took a back seat to celebration at the California Capitol Monday as lawmakers honored drag nun Sister Roma and proclaimed June LGBT Pride Month.

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Roma, who belongs to the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, was one of 15 guests invited by the legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus as the Assembly and Senate passed resolutions proclaiming June as LGBTQ pride month. Other honorees included tennis legend Billie Jean King and filmmaker Eugene Lee Yang.

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Republicans in the Senate called on Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, to revoke Roma’s invitation last Thursday. A group of Catholic and evangelical Christian demonstrators gathered on the Capitol’s west steps Monday afternoon to protest Roma’s recognition.

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In the Assembly, when Roma came to the front to receive her award, Republican members left the floor and retreated to the lounge in the rear of the chamber. The remaining members clapped, whooped and cheered, giving Roma a prolonged standing ovation.

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“Love you, Roma!” shouted fellow honoree Harry Lit from the back of the chamber, eliciting more cheers from the floor and gallery.

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Outside the chamber, Roma was held up by supporters who gave her high fives, shook her hand and asked for photos. She struggled to hold back tears.

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“I was very emotional,” the drag nun said after receiving her award. Her flowing, feathery blue headpiece framed a full face of drag makeup. “I came this close to crying,” she continued, “and if this makeup runs, I’m done.”

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Speaking to the Senate, Democratic Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton introduced the pride resolution and noted that she identified as a “proud Catholic.”

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“While I love my church, my church doesn’t always love all parts of me,” Eggman said. “And that’s okay, because I don’t love all parts of my church either.”

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State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman stands with other members of the LGBTQ community on the State Senate Chamber with Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Roma, who was recognized for Pride Month, Monday, June 5, 2023. Democratic Stockton) Capitol.
State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman stands with other members of the LGBTQ community on the State Senate Chamber with Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Roma, who was recognized for Pride Month, Monday, June 5, 2023. Democratic Stockton) Capitol.Hector Amesqua hamezcua@sacbee.com

Prior to the Assembly session, Wiener said he would be surprised if any of his Republican counterparts disrupted the proceedings.

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“I think my Republican colleagues are caricaturing her,” Wiener told The Bee, “and if they really took the time to get to know her, they’d understand why I nominated her for this honor.”

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On their website, the Sisters describe themselves as “a leading-edge Order of queer and trans nuns” who use “humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

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Assemblymember Devon Mathis of Porterville was the only Republican member to speak on the Assembly’s resolution, H.R. 33. Mathis spoke briefly about religious freedom and the need for “mutual” respect that has not been displayed “from all sides,” a nod to the controversy over Roma.

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“Hatred and bigotry are not acceptable, and if we truly want religious freedom, then respect must be mutual,” Mathis said. “Sadly, that has not been the case many times, and frankly, from all sides.

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“As far as I’m concerned, what two consenting adults want to do behind closed doors is on them,” Mathis said. “I’d prefer y’all get a room and keep the (public displays of affection) from my kids,” he continued, “but let’s be respectful on both sides.”

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The author of the resolution, Democratic Assemblymember Chris Ward of San Diego, responded to Mathis’ comments in his closing statement.

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“I wish I had a Pride parade in the 1990s that I could’ve gone to,” Ward said. “I don’t think I would’ve minded the PDA out there, and it might’ve actually made things a little clearer for me.”

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The resolutions passed the Assembly and the Senate without opposition. In the Senate, all Republican senators except Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of Yucaipa abstained from the voice vote. Democratic Senators Dave Min of Irvine and Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge also did not register votes.

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Outside on the Capitol’s west steps, hundreds of protesters gathered for a prayer vigil hosted jointly by the American Council, the California Family Council, and the California Catholic Conference. Veronica Sullivan of Marysville and Rhonda Murray of Sacramento said they attended to show solidarity with Catholics and criticized the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for “mocking” Catholicism.

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“I genuinely just want to pray for the state and the people who live in the state of California,” said Sullivan, who rode on a commuter bus to join the crowd at the Capitol.

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Murray said she’s in favor of policies that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth and also remove books with sexual content from schools. Democratic policymakers and LGBTQ community advocates have denounced such policies as harmful and discriminatory.

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“I’m praying for everybody,” Murray said. “Jesus is the one way to go to heaven.”

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Members of the California Council of Families and the California Catholic Convention raise their hands in prayer during a Christian vigil outside the California State Capitol on Monday, June 5, 2023. The event was held in response to ceremonies honoring members in the chambers of the Senate and Congress. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence LGBTQ Pride Month. Religious groups accuse the nuns of mocking Christianity and Catholicism.
Members of the California Council of Families and the California Catholic Convention raise their hands in prayer during a Christian vigil outside the California State Capitol on Monday, June 5, 2023. The event was held in response to ceremonies honoring members in the chambers of the Senate and Congress. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence LGBTQ Pride Month. Religious groups accuse the nuns of mocking Christianity and Catholicism.Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

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Marybeth Bowman, 58, kneels in the center with members of the California Family Council and the California Catholic Convention during a Christian vigil outside the state capitol on Monday, June 5. ) and her friend Elise Frank (64), left.  2023. The event was in response to a Congressional ceremony honoring members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during LGBTQ Pride Month. Religious groups accuse the nuns of mocking Christianity and Catholicism.
Marybeth Bowman, 58, kneels in the center with members of the California Family Council and the California Catholic Convention during a Christian vigil outside the state capitol on Monday, June 5. ) and her friend Elise Frank (64), left. 2023. The event was in response to a Congressional ceremony honoring members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during LGBTQ Pride Month. Religious groups accuse the nuns of mocking Christianity and Catholicism.Renee C. Byer rbyer@sacbee.com

Atkins was not surprised that seven of her eight Republican colleagues didn’t vote in support of the resolution. In an interview following the vote, she thanked them for choosing to stay silent rather than disrupt the ceremony with “comments that would be painful to the community.”

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She was surprised, however, that the caucus would go so far as to request that Roma be uninvited from the ceremony.

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The Senate Republican Caucus made the request in a letter to Atkins last Thursday. In the letter authored by Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones, R-San Diego, the lawmakers characterized the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as “well-known for their public denigration of the Catholic faith” and requested the withdrawal of the invitation because “it sends a troubling message to Californians of all faiths.”

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That same day, Atkins wrote a response letter to her Senate Republican colleagues in which she declined to revoke Roma’s invitation. In a statement, she said she stood with the LGBTQ caucus in celebrating Roma and the rest of the honorees.

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“Disappointment” and “pain” were the words Atkins used to describe her initial reaction as she read her colleagues’ letter.

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Critics of the Sisters, including Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City, have questioned whether the legislature would honor Roma if her satire were aimed at Judaism or Islam.

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“Would the Legislature still honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence if they mocked Jews or Muslims?” Gallagher tweeted last Thursday. “Bigotry & discrimination against any religious group are wrong & have no place in the Capitol.”

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Atkins, who came out as lesbian to her family at age 18 and was raised in the Pentecostal Holiness Church, said she understands that one person’s definition of satire can be interpreted by another person as an offensive remark. She didn’t personally enjoy The Book of Mormon. Still, she argued that Roma was being honored for her work in the community to support marginalized people.

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“When people take on the banner of a nun to do good works, that’s not offensive to me,” she said. “I think this was absolutely a smokescreen to continue to go after drag queens and transgender folks. And that to me is what I find very disappointing.”

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The dispute over Roma’s invitation follows the Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision last month to withdraw an invitation to the Sisters to attend an LGBTQ pride event after conservative complaints. The team reversed course and re-invited the group several days later after a backlash of protests.

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It also comes amid a nationwide Republican effort to crack down on drag performances, with several conservative-controlled state legislatures passing laws restricting or prohibiting them outright. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 491 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in statehouses across the country — 63 of which have already been signed into law, according to the ACLU’s tracker. Many LGBTQ activists have warned that this is part of a thinly veiled effort to crack down on transgender people.

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Prior to the Assembly session, Wiener said he would be surprised if any of his Republican counterparts disrupted the proceedings.

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“I think my Republican colleagues are caricaturing her,” Wiener told The Bee, “and if they really took the time to get to know her, they’d understand why I nominated her for this honor.”

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State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) attends State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) being honored at the Capitol with other members of the LGBTQ community at Sister Roma and the Capitol during State Pride Month, Monday, June 5, 2023. Sister Roma. Houses of Parliament.
State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) attends State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) being honored at the Capitol with other members of the LGBTQ community at Sister Roma and the Capitol during State Pride Month, Monday, June 5, 2023. Sister Roma. Houses of Parliament.Hector Amesqua hamezcua@sacbee.com

Wiener said he nominated Roma for the honor months before the Los Angeles Dodgers controversy in recognition of her decades of work on behalf of the San Francisco community.

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She fought Facebook over its policy requiring people to use their government-recognized names on accounts, launching the #MyNameIs hashtag campaign in favor of people’s right to self-identify on the social media platform. She has also served as an educator, activist and fundraiser in the fight against HIV and AIDS, raising more than $1 million for the LGBTQ global community, according to her bio.

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The legislature’s joint LGBTQ Caucus each year honors community members whose work increases visibility for the LGBTQ community. Past honorees have included Amy Schneider, champion of the game show Jeopardy!, and Robert Gentry, former mayor of Laguna Beach and the first openly gay mayor in California.

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“The LGBTQ Caucus recognizes these incredible people for their efforts in helping to advance representation, as well as for being an inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community and its allies,” the caucus wrote on its website.

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The Bee’s Andrew Sheeler contributed to this story.

This story was first published June 5, 2023 at 3:52 p.m.

Maya Miller writes about the economic liquidity and affordability of the Capitol in Sacramento Bee. She previously ran business for The Seattle Times and holds a degree in public policy from Duke University.



https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article276110576.html California GOP steps out, nun gains LGBTQ pride

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