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Sister Paula (born Larry Nielsen, 1938 in Portland, Oregon), is "America's foremost transgendered evangelist". As a high school student in 1952, she was riveted by the story of Christine Jorgensen, the first male to female transsexual. Along with her fascination with Jorgensen, Nielsen knew that she desperately wanted to assume a female identity. After high school, Nielsen spent a few years cross-dressing and shortly thereafter, adopted Paula after the popular song, "Hey, Hey Paula".
While living in San Francisco in 1963, Nielsen legally changed her name to Paula and began living full time in a female identity. In order to avoid arrest for open transvestivism, she was forced to carry a letter with her from noted sexologist Dr. Harry Benjamin explaining that she was a transsexual. After a move to southern California, Nielsen was employed as a legal secretary in a downtown Los Angeles law firm and was active in Angelus Temple, a Pentecostal church founded by Aimee Semple McPherson and the headquarters of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Still hiding the fact that she was transgendered, it was in 1969 that Paula first attended the predominantly gay and lesbian Melrose Avenue Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), pastored by church's founder, Reverend Troy Perry. Even though she was still closeted regarding her transgender identity, Nielsen went forward that day to receive communion and states that "the presence of God was there in a powerful and profound way" and that during communion she "started speaking in tongues". Although Nielsen did not return to the Melrose Avenue MCC before moving back to Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, she later became involved with Portland MCC, serving (among other things) as church secretary.
Starting in the early 1980s, Nielsen began performing a regular nightclub act at the legendary drag club, Darcelle XV in downtown Portland. During her off-hours, Nielsen studied for a ministerial correspondence-course and in 1987 she began her career as "the world's first trans-evangelist," with her own public access cable television program. Comedian Fred Willard selected Nielsen in 1991 for a comedy special about off-beat public access programs across America. This appearance led to a series of television appearances including the Joan Rivers Show, The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn, and Saturday Night Clive for the BBC. The Sister Paula Show has also been seen on cable access stations in Seattle and Los Angeles.
In February 2005, Nielsen survived a massive heart attack. Her website and podcast premiered in 2006 and continues along with her cable television program. The video podcast of her program premiered on her website and iTunes in June, 2007. She is currently at work on an autobiography and a documentary about her life is in production.
- Robert DuPree, "Drag City, U.S.A." NorthWest Fountain November, 1981
- Michael A. Lipton, "Way Beyond Wayne's World", People Magazine March 16, 1992
- Eva Hunter, "Maverick Ministry", The Oregonian, Friday November 12, 1993
- David Lipin, "Drag Evangelist Unveils on Local Public Access Television", West Hollywood Independent, Wednesday, September 4, 1996
- Dale Brasel, "Cable Ready", Detour Magazine, March 1998
- A Curious and Peculiar People : A History of the Metropolitan Community Church-Portland and Oregon’s GLBT community by David Grant Kohl Release Date: February 2006 QPress, Portland, Oregon