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    Profiles in Courage and Compassion: Sister Roma

    Stu Smith

    Column Don’t Call It Frisco

    By Stu Smith

    When asked who embodies the true spirit of San Francisco, I point to Donna Sachet (profiled in the last issue of the Bay Times) and Sister Roma. Both are highly visible and all of their work seems to exemplify the nature of giving. Both also embrace and embody drag as no one else ever really has, with the possible exception of Jose Sarria, who created the Imperial Court System and so much more in the LGBT civil rights movement.

    Sister Roma-“There’s No Place Like Rome”- joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 1989 and is the first Sister publically elevated and unveiled. In those two plus decades, this never resting Diva has walked the walk and talked the talk. A look at the schedule Roma maintains is mind boggling and hard to imagine, unless you’re passionate and truly committed to the art of being useful and helpful to others.

    A successful fundraiser for HIV/AIDS and many, many other LGBT causes must include Roma because she brings much more than her “habit.” Roma was delivered in conservative, Christian-reformed Grand Rapids, Michigan, and graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas with a BABS in the mid 1980’s. She casually says that “they turned out quite a nun, didn’t they?”
    It did not take long for Roma to head westward and claim residence in San Francisco. She let go of dependence on the name given to her at birth, Michael Williams, and chose Sister Roma as her name and role. Asked what prompted her to choose this name, she replies, “The Wizard of Oz meets the Pope kind of thing…” and the rest is history.
    Roma first saw the Sisters in 1987 and says, “In 1987, I saw a small group of people (only six fully professed members) who were making the world a better place. I realized that I was interested in the same things the Sisters were: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Human Rights and winning the battle against AIDS. I never thought that I’d do drag, let alone become a Nun, but there was no denying it… I embraced the costume, the makeup, the jewelry… It felt then and continues to feel quite natural. There’s no way I could NOT be Sister Roma. That’s why I know it’s a calling.”
    Roma joined the Sisters because she didn’t want her life to be lived in vain. She wanted to strive for civil rights for LGBT people, to fight the enormous battle to cure AIDS and to support those disabled by the plague. She felt she could make a difference in spreading love and tolerance, rather than fear and loathing. She decided to fight for universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.

    Roma created the “Stop The Violence” window placard campaign that led to the whistle give-away for people to call for help when being gay bashed. She served on the Sisters board and has participated in countless fundraising projects leading to deep and strong relationships with a long list of causes that promote and serve the LGBT community.
One of her career goals is to be on the cover of Vanity Fair. With the help of Photoshop, that wish easily can be granted. Asked about career highlights, Roma says, “I have the arduous task of looking at naked men all day long as the Art Director at Hot House Entertainment.”

    Roma is habitually, perpetually and happily single, but enjoys brief encounters when visiting her beloved Puerto Vallarta. With a schedule like hers, when would she have time to nurture a relationship?
    Summing up her time as the Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, she says, “In 25 years I’ve done it all baby! I’ve worked with everyone from AIDS to PAWS. I’ve served food at Thanksgiving with Tenderloin Tessie’s. I’ve painted kids’ faces for LYRIC. I’ve hosted a Masturbate-a-thon for the Center For Sex and Culture. I’ve moderated public forums on safer sex and serosorting for the SF AIDS Foundation. Mostly though, I’m a loudmouth who is very comfortable on stage. I’ve been the MC at countless events for years, including Folsom Street Fair, AEF Christmas Eve Dinner, Easter in Dolores Park, SF Drag King Contest, Mr. & Miss Gay SF Contest, San Francisco Pride, Halloween In The Castro, Castro Street Fair, and AIDS Emergency Fund County Fair – to name a few. I’m thrilled whenever anyone thinks to invite me to be a part of their event.”

    In closing she was asked her favorite quotation and she rattled off several:

    “Life’s a banquet and most poor sons o’ bitches are starving to death!”- Auntie Mame

    “All men are created equal.”- Abraham Lincoln

    “There’s only one true judge and that’s God, so chill, and let my father do his job.” – Salt N’ Peppa.

    Her advice to others is simple. “Be yourself. Accept yourself. Love yourself. Live your life however you want, and don’t listen to what other people say or think, especially drag queens in a newspaper interview, for God’s sake!”
    Thanks, Sister Roma, for your inspiration, passion and service.