The Copper Corridor has a significant population of LGBTQ+ residents, although members of that segment of the community remain largely anonymous out of fear, given the current political climate in the United States.
Two Miami men want to help change that. They are working to establish a local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a global organization that contributes time, money, and resources to worthy causes, while poking fun at gay stereotypes.
The Sisterhood is an organization advocating for a “rich and rewarding life without guilt and shame,” for members of the LGBTQ+ community. They present themselves in “a comedic and flamboyant display,” having fun while serving their communities.
As they do their philanthropic work, they look fabulous in glitter and sparkle with quirky Sisters names that usually have double entendre or pay homage to something in their past.
“I just don’t want people to be ashamed and have to hide in town,” says Malcolm Nason, AKA Sister Dangly Thyngs. “I’m not saying we need to be waving a rainbow flag. I have a partner, I love my partner. If you’re against gay marriage, you don’t have to get one. It’s as simple as that.”
Nason and his partner, Rob Schultz, have been together for 13 years and were involved with the Phoenix-based Grand Canyon Sisters for more than a decade, although due to the rigors of travel, they no longer participate in that Order.
Nason and Schultz—AKA Sister Bear Ly Covered—are working to start a new Order, the Rainbow Cactus Sisters, to help provide a safe space for the entire LGBTQ+ community and show those who would have them pushed back into the closet that there is nothing to fear from them.
“We feel it is time for the Sisters to come out of the closet in Globe-Miami and do what we do best, that is to have fun and educate the community, as well as serve our community,” Schultz says.
Nason has lived in the Miami area since 2005, when he moved here with his previous partner, who died shortly thereafter from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.
A flat tire on their Chrysler 300 gave them time to look around, and they decided the Copper Corridor had plenty to offer as a place to call home.
“I was working in Phoenix as resident manager of houses for men with HIV/AIDS,” Nason says. “We decided we would look at some of the properties, and the very first place we saw, we liked.”
The couple made an offer on a Saturday that was accepted on Sunday, and 10 days later the purchase was complete.
For a year, they drove back and forth between the Valley and Miami, but by December 2006, Nason’s partner was unable to continue the arduous journey and they moved to Miami full time until his death in 2008.
Devastated and alone, Nason joined a grief support group in Tucson and finally realized he wanted to live.
“When he passed, I’m all of a sudden alone,” Nason says. “I have three children, but they’re grown adults, living in the Valley. They love me—that’s not an issue—but they’re still an hour and a half away.”
Nason met Schultz on a trip to Yuma, and the pair struck up a friendship that soon blossomed into something deeper. Eventually Schultz moved to Miami.
But soon afterward, Nason accepted a job in Bisbee managing an RV park that catered to the LGBTQ+ community. It was there that he and Schultz were first introduced to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
They ended up joining the Grand Canyon Sisters, and for several years drove hundreds of miles to participate in Sisters fundraisers, including adult-themed “Sisters Bingo,” a popular fundraiser throughout the organization.
Money raised by the Sisters is donated to local organizations as well as LGBTQ+ specific causes, such as AIDS/HIV clinics and organizations devoted to suicide prevention.
The couple finally realized they could no longer keep up the pace—Nason is 78 years old and Schultz is 67—and decided to stay closer to home.
In the wake of the 2020 election, the couple donned their habits and decided to work for change in their own community.
In mid-2021, a group of Grand Canyon Sisters came to Globe-Miami to “minister” to the community. They found that no matter what one’s political stripe might be, they had plenty of tacit support from their neighbors.
“People would stop and ask what we’re about because we’re very colorful,” Nason remembers. “But we had to connect with the right audience: There are people who want to, and I think we’re ready now.”
Both Nason and Schultz were in their 50s when they came out of the closet. Between them, they have six children and 13 grandchildren. Nason has traveled the world, from his native New Hampshire to Bermuda, Florida, Nebraska, and even Saudi Arabia, settling in Arizona in 1985.
He has seen what it’s like for people to live without rights or the ability to choose their own leaders. He was kicked out of the Mormon church when he came out.
Schultz spent a decade in the Navy, from 1972 through 1983. He says the couple would like to get married, but he would lose many of the benefits that help him survive.
Both men see the overturning of Roe v Wade setting back social progress by 50 years and as a wakeup call in the fight for civil rights.
“It’s been really tough for us up here, but if we could get more Sisters or more people to become a Sister up here, I don’t think there would be as much of an issue because we would become visible in the community,” Schultz says. “What visibility or exposure we’ve had so far has been limited, but positive. It’s always been a positive experience.”
Schultz said that one of the most positive experiences he had recently was when Miami Mayor Angel Medina asked for a photo at the Miami Fiesta in September.
With the blessing of the United Nuns Privy Council, Nason and Schultz have been given the okay to start a chapter. They need only five members to establish the Rainbow Cactus Sisters.
They plan to seek members from all over the Copper Corridor, from Payson to Globe to Superior, and hope to add Pride events to the regular Sisters menu.
“Our purpose is not only to serve the community,” Schultz says, “but to serve as many of the outlying rural communities as we can, Tucson included.”
Given the current political climate, with bans targeting books with LGBTQ+ themes or characters (both real and imagined), legislation intended to stifle the right to health care for transgender Americans, and threats of violence for Pride events and “Drag Queen Story Hours,” rural Arizona can be a dangerous and unwelcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community and its “straight” allies.
Christie Cothurn, former owner of Bouquets on Broad Street, is one such ally, who advocates from a human rights angle, but also argues that excluding the LGBTQ+ community is bad economics.
Having spent much of her life creating floral arrangements for weddings and civil ceremonies, she has seen not only that the LGBTQ+ community spends money, but that they are also just like everyone else.
She would like to see one of the towns in the Copper Corridor embrace annual Pride events, not only as a way to bring in tourist dollars, but also as a way to stand up for the rights of marginalized people.
“Everybody has the right to love who they want to love,” Cothurn says. “They just have the right to love. That should be automatic.”
Schultz points out that what the Sisters are doing isn’t “drag” in the traditional sense, but what they do goes beyond entertainment.
“The sisters aren’t drag queens, but there are some that do perform,” Schultz says. “I have done that myself as a Sister, but that isn’t my purpose. My purpose is to minister to the community.”
Journalist, writer and editor who has worked for community newspapers for more than 15 years. After four years at Davis-Monthan AFB and a few years living in Tucson, moved to California to find his fortune. He is happy to be back in Arizona, in the mountains he loves.