By Josse (Jocelyn) Gee, she/he/they
Sister Bearoncé Knows is the drag-nun moniker of the unifier otherwise known as Albert Ontiveros. Ontiveros has taken everyday activism to another level. He’s made the concept of being all in for a community into a lifestyle, and his heart-work is providing resources for those who were, are, and have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
Heart work as a concept is the combination of doing what you love and doing what suits your talents and passions. What unifies heart-workers is infinite love, a stubborn passion for manifesting change, and a commitment to showing up for their communities. According to Ontiveros, heart work shouldn’t feel like a burden. It should feel like love.
Through his work, Ontiveros centers the gay community and other queer kin. He supports those that have historically faced ignorance, discrimination, and outright abuse in medical settings because many gay ancestors died much too young.
Who is Albert Ontiveros, and who are the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?
Ontiveros’s lived experience as a gay artist and performer has fundamentally influenced his approach to organizing and community outreach. He exemplifies the success one can have when combining intention, talents, and love. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SoPI) are the community organization that played the starring role in Albert’s metamorphosis into Sister Bearoncé Knows. Performing in drag for their community is the bread and butter of the SoPI—an “order of queen and trans nuns,” who, according to their site, “believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty.” They continue, “the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”
Though he has blossomed in drag, performing as Sister Bearoncé is far from the only way that Ontiveros gives back to the greater gay community. His day job as the Senior Outreach Coordinator for AIDS/LifeCycle means he has committed to showing up daily for those impacted by HIV/AIDS. His goal is to empower gay youth who need resources and services that are often inaccessible to LGBTQIA+ youth seeking support.
Beginning with Bears in Leather
Ontiveros is a long-time resident of the San Fernando Valley in California. For over a decade, he has been affiliated with various organizations that “create a better gay LA.” Ontiveros’s first introduction to the everyday advocacy that would become his model of success when he was awarded the title of Mr. Los Angeles Leather Bear. This title is a celebration of gay sexuality and specifically highlights individuals from the bear and leather communities who demonstrate a passion for community and FUNdraising! The Mr. Los Angeles Bear title means that Ontiveros was elected to represent a local aid organization, introducing him to advocacy within the LGBT+ community. He has since partnered and is currently working with a number of organizations including the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and AIDS/LifeCycle. He is also the co-founder of the Cyclepaths, a cycling team founded in 2015 that, according to Ontiveros, “accidentally’ became the largest POC team within the AIDS/LifeCycle organization—the Cyclepaths.
A Cyclepath for Community
Ontiveros works as the Senior Outreach Coordinator at AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC). ALC organizes an annual event that raises money for people living with HIV/AIDS. Cyclist participants bike the 545 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco and fundraise a minimum of $3K throughout the year to cover their ticket to the life-changing ride down the coast of California. The money raised from the tickets goes towards resources that help to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. His favorite aspect of his role at ALC is convincing people that they can do something like raising $3K to attend a seven-day, 545 mile bike ride to generate resources for those living with HIV/AIDS. He helps ALC team members get through their anxiety and pre-ride jitters and overcome any barriers to training. Ontiveros admitted his favorite part of the ALC process is watching the people that he supported cross the finish line.
Ontiveros is also affectionately referred to as the Mother of the House of Cyclepaths. The Cyclepaths have given birth to other POC teams across California—demonstrating exactly how keeping community fun has a butterfly effect.
Ontiveros has also raised money for ALC through softball, cycling, makeup, cakes, drag, sewing, painting, and anything craft or talent he wanted to hone while raising hell. For one six-month period, Albert donated 100% of cake sales he made to ALC—in that time, he made over $11k for ALC.
His lived experience as a gay man has been intrinsic to his approach as a community organizer and advocate. He is grounded in the knowledge of those that came before while he works to ease the burden for future gaybies. Ontiveros takes everyday activism to the next level—his love for people living with HIV/AIDS drives him to raise thousands upon thousands for his community, providing support and bringing folks together along the way.
From a Penchant for Leather to a Passion for AIDS Awareness
Ontiveros became drawn to drag for the same reason he is drawn to leather: both are some of the most extreme and iconic expressions of gay pride. He (and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) are all about bringing fun to the community while spreading attention and awareness about HIV/AIDS. (The Sisters pay for all of their personal expenses to ensure that every dollar goes back into the community.)
The LGBT+ community adores performances that highlight the gay experience while bucking the restrictions of heteronormativity. Similarly, allies are significantly more engaged and eager to support a cause once they identify with those impacted. In Ontiveros’s case, donning divine drag excites his audience, further develops one of his many creative talents, and generates resources for those impacted by HIV/AIDS. He maintains that the key to sustaining his heart work is having fun while raising those funds. Albert combines what he loves doing with who he loves.
Though a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, young people are easily and unknowingly transmitting in the absence of comprehensive sex education. For gay youth, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is worsened by the shortage of sexual and mental health resources that are inclusive and informed by queer insight.
So many essential resources including mental health and HIV/AIDS services are only available through the support of events and organizations such as AIDS/LifeCycle and SoPI. Gay folks have been been on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS pandemic since the very beginning—particularly people of color, leather-men, drag queens, and trans kin. These folks have always been demanding rights, healthcare, and receipts from the government.
As a millennial, Ontiveros wasn’t there for the worst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic but he wants to be there for the end of it. The fight has changed—it’s now about learning to pool together community resources, funds, and influence to maintain and grow the organizations that provide services to those working to prevent or treat HIV/AIDS.
How You Can Support
Turn up to a fundraiser and send some money to a drag queen. It is super encouraging for people to explicitly express their appreciation for the impact of heart workers. Show people they can make a tremendous impact and have a blast doing it. You don’t need to offer anything but your presence sometimes—just show up.
Written by Josse (Jocelyn) Gee for Youth To The People