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Sister Roma, Creating Change through Porn, Discos and Wigs

Sister Roma, pictured here nonchalantly worshipped by hot San Franciscans, has been a staple figure in the SF LGBTQ scene for decades, decades! Okay, only two decades, or possibly less, or even hundreds of times more- but like any queen I dare not shed the mystery of age, because it matters not! What Sister Roma has done for the community of San Francisco stretches far beyond a matter of time and space (space being the origin of her birth of course).  I first met Sister Roma sipping champagne in the VIP balcony of the Some Thing Pageant hosted by Juanita More (it sounds glamorous, and it was, for Juanita and Roma, but I was just drunk and making out with my date… but I was wearing a fur capelette, that’s fancy right?).  “Sister Roma and I have been pals for a quite a while,” stated Juanita,  “she is one of the funniest and sweetest and people I know. Besides her many accomplished traits - she continues to glow in our San Francisco community as a great leader and friend to many.” You don’t take a review like that from Juanita lightly, so I wanted to find out more, but enough of my babble, let’s get answers straight from the source.

Nark: Let’s start with a little herstory, when did Sister Roma emerge and why?

Sister Roma: A giant glitter-ball hit the planet and Sister Roma emerged from the crater in 1987. Okay, I'm not from outer space (lies! -Nark), I'm from Michigan (which is even scarier). I moved to San Francisco immediately  after graduating from college in 1985. Two years later I was hanging out with friends during happy hour at the Midnight Sun in the Castro. We all had jobs downtown and we were standing around in our power-ties, watching videos when this character entered the bar. She looked liked a clown/nun/showgirl and for the first time that evening everyone stopped looking up at the video screens and looked at her. The reaction was mixed, to say the least, but she greeted everyone with charm, grace, and a huge smile. Suddenly the queen came up to me and knew me by name - I was stunned! It turned out to be a good friend of mine named Norman who (unbeknownst to me) was also known as Sister Luscious Lashes with the Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence. I had never heard of the Sisters until that very moment but I was intrigued. I befriended the group and discovered that they were social activists, fundraisers, trailblazers, shit-stirrers, and passionate, talented, amazing people. I started volunteering with them as a boy until one day Luscious suggested that I ‘just try the makeup' and my life changed forever. Sister Roma was born!

N: Can you tell us more about the Sisters and what they do, and how you Perpetuate said Indulgence?

SR: The group started when a few guys put on nuns habits and went out to the Castro on Easter in 1979. When gay men started to become sick and die from what people called 'gay cancer,' the Sisters were at the forefront of the fight to save lives. One of the members was a registered nurse who believed that the disease was sexually transmitted, so the Sisters developed Play Fair, the world's first-ever safer sex pamphlet. Later the Sisters threw the first AIDS fundraiser. They were also becoming civil rights activists, holding demonstrations, marches and candlelight vigils... but AIDS took its toll on the Order. They went from 40+ members to only about six active Sisters when I joined in 1987. Today we have 60+ members in San Francisco with over a 1,000 members in orders across the US and around the world. The group still maintains focus on fundraising, fun-raising, and fighting for equality and civil rights for all. Included in our vows is the vow to "Expiate stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy."

N: What are most fulfilling moments you've experienced as a Sister?

SR: When I joined the Sisters I never dreamed in a million years the doors it would open, the experiences it would bring, or the joy I have known from my work in my community and with my Sisters. What I've discovered in myself is a deep passion for service to my community and the under-served members of society. I am dedicated to working with the homeless, to promoting HIV/AIDS education and practical care, and bringing an end to bullying and hate crimes. I am determined to fight until I die for equality in all facets of society for my community. Surprisingly, the most fulfilling moments are often not the most public ones. Being well-known and respected is very fulfilling but the most important moments that I will always cherish are the quiet personal interactions with people who sometimes want nothing more than a hug. It sounds corny as hell, but it's true. Can you imagine if all you needed was a kind ear, a shoulder to cry on or a hug, and on one would fucking hug you? That's what I'm here for!

N: Why is Roma ’the most photographed nun in the world?’

SR: Ummm.... have you seen me? I’m fucking gorgeous. But seriously, if you do the math (25 years x 250 manifestations a year x 30 photos per event) I have to be right up there with Mother-you-know-who, and she's dead now so Ta-Da! I win... 

(That’s 187,500 photos- which is also the exact same number of photos I have of my good side. –Nark)

N: Tell us about your career as an art director at the gay porn studio Hot House Entertainment.

SR: I love working in adult entertainment! I have met some of the most creative, talented, and crazy people in the 20 years I've been around the industry - and many of them have become my best friends. My bosses, Hot House President Steven Scarborough and V.P. Brent Smith are two of my closest friends as well as loyal confidants and trusted advisors (that sounds like something right out of Game of Thrones) but seriously, I don't know what I'd do without them. My best friend, Mike Youens (aka Shante) introduced me to Chi Chi LaRue almost 20 years ago and we have grown to love each other. Over the years I've developed deep, lasting friendships with several of the porn stars including Chad Donovan, Jack Ryan, Scott Tanner, Steven Daigle, Drew Cutler, Samuel Colt, Chris Porter... the list goes on and on and I'm sorry I've left some out (they're egos are nearly as big and easily bruised as mine). In addition to my daytime job at Hot House I am also part of the Naked Sword family. As you may know, I am the co-host of the Tim & Roma show, the gay adult industry's #1, longest-running, live-format talk show. Tim Valenti and I run around with Mr. Pam, Jack Shamama, Jessie Garcia, and the whole crew, hosting red carpets, conducting live interviews and basically making fools out of ourselves on camera for the entire NakedSword.com network to enjoy. We've been doing the show for over 5 years now and it's just as ridiculous as it was when it started. You really should see it. Adults only. Nudity often ensues. 

N: Does community fund raising Roma side mix well? I’m sure both sides are great outlets for raising awareness on HIV/Aids and condom use, no?

SR: I always tell people that drag queens are like the cheerleaders and porn stars are the guys on the team of the gay community. We go hand-in-hand. I know when I'm involved with an event I can count on my friends in the industry to come out and support - there's never a shortage of HOT men and fabulous raffle prizes, thanks to the generosity of the adult entertainment industry. I'm very proud to work for Hot House, which has always been a condom-only company. Steven initiated the condom-only policy at Falcon, which set the standard for responsible gay adult content producers worldwide. Chi Chi is also a very well known for her condom-only advocacy, both on and off camera. We've got a responsibility to our viewers to show that sex with condoms not only saves your life, it's fucking HOT! 

N: How long have you been a figure of the San Francisco LGBTQ community? 

SR: I'm not going to lie - the minute I joined the Sisters and become Roma I was OUT THERE, working it to be seen and spread the good word. The bible says that it's a sin to "hide your talents under a bushel" so I have never been one to hide. I've always pushed the envelope by boldly going where no drag queen had ever gone before, like San Francisco's high-society Black & White Ball and flying on airplanes... I am the honey badger of the drag community: I just don't give a fuck. I don't know where I get the balls to look the way I look and do the things I do - but what I've learned is that the more comfortable you are with yourself and the more confidence you exude the more relaxed and confident the people around you become. Be yourself and the rest will follow. 

N: What's your wildest moment in the SF scene?

SR: One of my wildest moments in the SF club scene involves Grace Jones and illegal substances in the VIP bathroom. That night she told me I reminded her of Keith (Haring) and I almost died. I absolutely fell in love with her!

N: You were recently elected Community Grand Marshal of San Francisco's upcoming Gay Pride Weekend, what an achievement! How does it feel?

SR: Being elected Community Grand Marshal feels absolutely FANSTASTIC. It's a heart-warming and humbling experience. It feels great to be recognized for my 25 years of service to the community. It's funny though, because people always say 'thank you for all the work you do.' and to me it doesn't feel like work at all. I have had so much fucking FUN and felt so much love this is the farthest thing from work I've ever done. It's my pleasure and privilege to be able work closely with all facets of my community to help make the world a better place. I do not want to feel like I lived in vain; It has always been my goal to make a difference and I am not done. I've got another 25 years in me, at least!

N: Work on Sister Roma, we are paying attention and the community benefits greatly from your existence!

Photos by Michael Smith Photography

Read Roma in Gloss Magazine (glossmagazine.net). Watch Roma on the Tim & Roma show (timandroma.com). Follow Roma on Twitter and Facebook (@SisterRoma, facebook.com/SisterRoma)

 

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