Can San Francisco get a gay-men?
After a week that saw the unexpected death of one of San Francisco’s singular drag performers, an anti-LGBTQ+ provocation at San Francisco State University that became a right-wing cause célèbre and a massive march down Market Street in support of queer people’s humanity and drag as an art form, San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ communities needed some sweetness and light.
So did everybody else.
Thousands of people—gay, straight and otherwise—descended on Dolores Park on Easter Sunday, covering nearly every inch of grass. They were there for the annual Foxy Mary and Hunky Jesus contests staged by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the irreverent troupe of drag nuns in kabuki makeup that was founded in San Francisco more than 40 years ago.
On perhaps the first warm and sunny weekend day of 2023, it was a reminder that a city this troubled can still show the very best of itself: a peaceful gathering that’s free to enter and attracts people from all walks of life who leap at the opportunity to play dress up and have a picnic. What was, only a decade ago, a fairly niche event that might draw hundreds of people has now ballooned into a large-scale festival, with a vibe similar to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Indeed, 2023 was quite likely the biggest Easter in the Park to date.
Drag queens have a lock on Easter in San Francisco the way Paas has a lock on egg-dyeing kits. Emceed by Sister Roma, the “most photographed nun in the world,” and former RuPaul’s Drag Race competitor and District 6 candidate for supervisor Honey Mahogany, the Hunky Jesus and Foxy Mary contests involved a number of spirited (and possibly less-than-devout) competitors, whose themes were tinged with politics.
Days after a Texas judge moved to ban an abortion medication that numerous medical organizations have declared to be safe, Free Choice Mary won after a rousing speech in defense of reproductive freedom. An “immaculately pregnant” Mary—whose due date falls on June 25, exactly six months from Christmas—took second place.
The Hunky Jesus contest, as always the main attraction, saw numerous bearded men jostle for the top spot. One, who gave his name as “Authentic Jesus,” carried a full-size cross that he estimated weighed 60 pounds in all. He claimed he’d only heard of the competition 90 minutes before entering, telling The Standard he’d sourced both the lumber and the blackberry brambles for his crown from his own backyard.
Third-place winner Oily Jesus described himself as “painfully straight,” but he had grown his hair out about a year ago, so he decided to summon some disciples and a bottle of baby oil and go for it.
“Once in a while, I get a Jesus comment,” he told The Standard. “I appreciate it. It was only in the last week we decided to do the oily theme, but I’ve been doing squats all year.”
The winner was “Haus of Jesus,” a group effort that involved the messiah plus an entire coterie of “bunnies,” like a cross between the Playboy Mansion and a drag-ball “house” made famous by the early 1990s documentary Paris Is Burning. One of their signs read, “Can I get a gaymen?”
Galvanized by the horrific killing of tech executive Bob Lee and an intensifying perception of social breakdown, famously liberal and queer-friendly San Francisco had spent last week reeling. This year’s Easter in the Park came as drag has been attacked in state legislatures nationwide as a nefarious tool intended to hurt children—or even a vehicle of outright satanism. Sacrilegious though the day might seem to some, it was as notable for its feisty politics as it was for its easygoing atmosphere. San Francisco needed a win, and it got one.
Addressing the crowd, state Sen. Scott Wiener delivered a brief barnstormer in support of LGBTQ+ visibility and resilience, but also a defense of joy.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Wiener said. “Drag queens are not going anywhere—and trans kids are not going anywhere.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org