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The Leather Leadership Conference 12

This year’s Leather Leadership Conference is now part of history.  This was the twelfth such convention for leather community political wonks.  This one was the second time it was held in San Francisco and it was the fourth such convention I’ve been to.  No surprise that, as I’m very much a leather community political wonk.

From my years with NLA-San Diego and then with Club X San Diego I know there’s a great need for such events.  This is where the folks who’ve achieved success in community organizing, community fundraising, community building and working with and through community politics all come together to share what they’ve learned and to make nationwide connections as well.  It’s an excellent event if that’s your bent.  Even if you’re not of that bent it’s still a worthwhile gig as it’s a real community event.  This, as opposed to the leather title pageants which are but inbred high school proms in cowhide.

I’m no longer active in Club X but I wanted to get a finger on what is going on within the overall leather/ SM/ fetish communities from the political and community organizing perspective.  As LLC’s are designed to draw a national attendance, going to this year’s soiree was a good way to get that finger in place.  I was not disappointed in this.

I was also not surprised by the politics at play within the convention either.  And the location of this year’s conference was what drove that.

I figured that since the LLC for this year was being held up in San Francisco that its flavor would reflect that.  I figured right.  The attendance was heavily skewed to gay male leatherfolk and the political leanings of a great many of the attendees from SF in particular were not just Democrat but pretty far left wing ideologues.  No surprise there at all but I do think the event suffered somewhat as a result.

The gay male bit I could readily accept.  The overall leather community got its start in the gay leather world.  It’s only been in recent years that the het world has caught up to the gay leathermen in terms of organizational depth and in terms of commercialization of their fetishes.  There are yet to be any leatherbars which cater to straights only but across the country there are now a number of commercial dungeon spaces which are aimed primarily at the het market.

In previous years, the gay male leatherfolk were more numerous than not and the conference presentations acknowledged that but did not overly cater to it.  Considering that the hets vastly outnumber the gay and lesbian kink folk, this is a good thing.  At those other conferences, the presenters made a determined effort to keep their universal messages universal even if they were straight and addressing some gay folk in the audience or gay and speaking to a mostly het crowd.  There was a good balance and a recognition that what we do is not entirely based on sexual orientation.  Yes, gay leathermen tend to play differently and have different expectations in the scene than het suburban players and different ones from the leather dykes as well.  But some things are universal and this tends to be more the case when you’re talking about the political side of the realm. 

There are only so many ways to conduct fundraising, so many ways to conduct a good and informative panel presentation or workshop, and only so many ways of dealing with the media on kink issues.  So, whether you’re gay, bi, poly, queer, dyke, trans or het shouldn’t matter when it comes to those things.  And nor should your sexuality matter when making a presentation about them.  For the most part, the presenters at LLC 12 held to this quite well.

There was but one workshop which I was worried would fall apart in a typical partisan bash-fest and that was the “It’s about leather: Strategies for working with a radical right obsessed with alternative sex practices!” panel discussion.  This one could all too easily have turned into a “bag on the Republicans” bit of diatribe.  Thankfully, it did not.  Instead, it kept its focus on the radical right and how best to best them.  One of the central things about this is that the political right has as one of its “core values” the promotion of individual freedoms and the protection of the individual from the state’s undo intrusion into their private lives.  That, actually, represents the Republican party of old and there are many in the GOP who would like to see their party return to those roots.  The right’s religious bigots are not universally welcomed by the rest of the political right wing nor the rest of the GOP.  So, using too broad a brush to tar the whole assembly denies us potential allies and also denies us the leverage we can use against the radical right.

Things did however, come apart somewhat with Pat Califia’s closing address.  This turned into a doctrinaire hard left activist diatribe that had more to do with the gay/ bi/ dyke/ poly/ trans/ queer agenda than anything related to the leather world.  Pat made sure to trot out all the tropes that pass for revealed truth amongst San Francisco’s queer community.  Were this a queer activist gathering then perhaps that would’ve been acceptable.  Instead, it was a gather of leatherfolk from across the nation and therefore from across the political spectrum as well.  There were plenty of Republicans and Libertarians there in addition to plenty of straights and bis there as well.  Spewing cookie cutter anti-Republican rhetoric played well to the SF queers but went over like a lead balloon for everyone else.  And mind you, I’m observing this as a guy who came out in the gay community back in ’82, who voted against Bush both times, and who cherises his copy of "Macho Sluts" that Pat signed to me when she did a reading from it back in 1989 at Lambda Rising in DC.

But Pat’s rhetoric reflected his roots and his locale.  While other speakers were at pains to rise above their roots and locale in order to address the whole, Pat wallowed in his.  I see this as a dangerous thing for our agenda as the times are changing.  We can no longer afford to submerge our agenda solely within the shadow of the gay community’s nor can we afford to only rely on the Democrats to protect our personal kinks.  The nation’s political agenda is changing and both the left and the Democrats are waning as a result.  Yeah, it’s worked in the past but that’s the past.  If we want progress in the future we’ve got to look to the future and that’s something the Democrats haven’t been able to do for a long time now.

Also, even if you disagree with that analysis of political trends you’ve got to agree that it makes little political sense to be playing only one side of the field.  By rooting ourselves so firmly only among the Democrats this lets them take advantage of that because they know they’ve a captive audience and that we can’t use the threat of throwing even some of our support to the other side in order to motivate the Democrats to help us.  An increasing number of minorities are finding out how restrictive it is being chained to the Democrat party and therefore locked into staying on its plantation.

So, deliberately partisan and intentionally alienating remarks like Pat’s do us all poorly.  They just showed how much of an alternate reality that the “San Francisco Bubble” effect imparts up there.

Next year’s LLC is going to be held in Atlanta.  It’s been a long while since I was wandering around Terminus so this should be fun to see how the place has changed.  Hopefully the organizers will ditch the rather forced “Y’all come!” hoky put-on accents they displayed at the closing ceremony.  It will also be interesting to see how much the Atlanta leather community has grown in the almost twenty years since I last lived there.  If they’re able to mount something as big as an Leather Leadership Conference then that must be pretty grown indeed.

I enjoyed my attendance at this year’s LLC in San Francisco.  The politics were just something I noted and were minimal enough not to seriously detract from the event.  The people were what I went to the even for and that turned out quite well.  I reconnected with some friends of longstanding and made some new friends as well.  That I connected via the ends of a flogger’s lashes with one of those new friends was all the better!

It was a good time and well worth having made the trek to The City for.



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This page was last updated on: 17 April 2008  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!