Friday, June 16, 2000

GLBT Pride, Leather Pride: Not Yet Obsolete

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

Because GLBT Pride is celebrated in the Twin Cities at the same time as Minnesota’s Leather Pride celebration, this is the time of year when I can be doubly proud—or maybe it’s Pride to the second power. But where did these pride celebrations come from, why are they necessary, and where are they going? Have they served their purpose? Is Pride becoming obsolete?

One thing that tends to make members of a minority band together as a group, and feel pride in that group identity, is the experience of being faced with oppression. History is filled with examples: The ancient Egyptians enslaved and oppressed the Jews, and before long—Exodus, Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the children of Israel to freedom. Early Christians were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. In more modern times, the Nazis hated the Jews so much that they tried to completely eradicate them.

Every American immigrant group in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Jews, Italians, Poles, Chinese, and so on—experienced some measure of oppression from the mostly WASP society of the time. Blacks were freed from slavery after the Civil War but still found themselves victims of massive oppression, which led to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s ( out of which came both the Women’s Lib and Gay Lib movements of the 1970’s).

What happened to all these groups and movements? Christians went from being a hated minority to, for much of the world anyway, the (sometimes hateful) majority. The experience of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps led to Zionism and a new Jewish identity, along with a determination to never forget what happened and to never let it happen again.

The Ellis Island immigrant groups of yesteryear have pretty much assimilated into the fabric of American society and have become today’s white Europeans at the top of the food chain. They are occasionally proud (as in “On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody’s Irish”) and for the most part are not too oppressed, unless one counts their fear of losing their dominant status to today’s immigrant groups—Hmong, Hispanics, East Indians, and people from the middle east, to name a few.

The civil rights movement of the 1960’s brought major positive changes for African-Americans, or at least for some of them. But there’s still much that needs to be done to improve their lot, and they’ll still be celebrating Juneteenth this year.

Whatever happened to Gay Lib? The movement broadened to include bisexuals and transgendered people along with gay men and lesbians and became the GLBT movement. At the same time, a gay men’s leather/SM community started coalescing; this community later broadened to include kinky lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, and even heterosexuals.

Neither GLBT people nor kinky people are geographic or ethnic nations—they are (sometimes overlapping) minority subsets of every society that has ever existed, and probably that ever will exist. But both communities, and the members of these communities, have experienced (and continue to experience) the same processes of oppression and liberation as the ethnic groups described above.

Oppression results from being hated, either by others or by oneself. To the extent I feel hated by others for being my kinky GLBT self, I am oppressed by them. To the extent I let them teach me to hate myself, what I am, and what I stand for, I oppress myself. Pride can be the first step out of such oppression, either for an individual or for a group. But this first step can be derailed by anger and hatred and a wish for vengeance against one’s oppressors. This is one of the justifications people use for fighting wars. It’s also why some gay people call heterosexuals “breeders.” These are both examples of how anger prolongs and intensifies oppression.

But if we are able to forgive those who formerly oppressed us, we no longer have to hate them. We focus instead on our gains—we make the mental shift from victims of oppression to survivors of oppression to victors over oppression. We are proud of our victory, and we savor it for awhile. Then life moves on, and our victory becomes a part of us—but only a part, a memory.

If part of my self-identity has been as part of an oppressed minority and I no longer feel oppressed, do I still feel like I belong to that group? If an entire group is so successful fighting oppression that none of the group feels oppressed, what’s left to unite the group? Does pride in belonging to that group become obsolete?

Maybe—but I don’t believe that either the GLBT community or the leather/SM community has yet reached that point. Both GLBT Pride and Leather Pride exist right now because enough people see a need for them and are willing to support, plan, and participate in them.

Yes, the nature of Pride celebrations is changing. The children of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island tended to be more assimilated into the dominant culture and therefore identified less as an oppressed group; the same thing is happening today with the children of Hmong and Hispanic immigrants. And so it is with the GLBT community; younger people who are coming out now weren’t even alive when the Stonewall riots happened—it’s history-book stuff to them. They have come of age in a time when there has been more openness and less oppression. Likewise, people who live in large urban areas, where life is good and there’s an atmosphere of acceptance, tend to forget that there are plenty of small towns where it’s not like that.

For all these reasons it makes sense that Pride celebrations have evolved from political demonstrations into “the gay State Fair.” Some people have almost entirely lost touch with the notion of oppression. They won’t be at Pride, or at least not this year—not until another Mathew Shepard or Billy Jack Gaither touches their lives. Then they’ll understand that, as long as there are hate crimes, there will be a need for public statements of pride.

As we continue to fight oppression we must also take care not to blindly oppress others, either in our own or in other communities. Some people find drag kings and queens and those in the leather/SM community an embarrassment and an inconvenience. They’re trying to fit in with the mainline, majority heterosexual community. Their argument is, “We’re just like you.” And then here come the drag kings and queens and the leather contingent in the pride parade, the Moral Majority’s cameras spring into action, and acceptance/assimilation is set back another few notches. Darn those people anyway.

Or maybe it’s leathermen (who constitute the vast majority of the GLBT leather/SM community) being insensitive to leatherwomen, or leather transpeople, or heterosexuals. Maybe it’s kinky heterosexuals being uncomfortable with gay men. Or maybe it’s the gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals not knowing what to do with those bisexual boundary-crossers.

We still need pride. But we don’t need the kind of pride that fosters an attitude of superiority, which leads to rudeness, inconsiderateness, anger or hate. How much better to feel the kind of pride that unites us—the kind we want to share and to pass on to others as a gift, so they also can be proud of who they are.

WEB EXTRA: International Mr. Leather Contest 2000

PHOTO: Contest producer Chuck Renslow (left) congratulates International Mr. Leather 2000 Mike Taylor of Cincinnati (right).

Mike Taylor, Mr. Heartland Leather 2000, was recently chosen International Mr. Leather 2000, winning over a field of 62 contestants from 7 countries. Scott Bloom, Mr. Pistons Leather 2000 from Long Beach, CA was selected first runner-up; Mr. Boston Leather 2000 Bob “Puppy” Pedder took second runner-up honors. For complete coverage of IML 2000 visit the Lavender Magazine website.

Leather Pride Events

GRAPHIC: The Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag will be available at all Minnesota Leather Pride events. Buy one for $5 (or $4 if you’re wearing this year’s Twin Cities Festival of Pride button) and get reduced admission to other Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 events.

This year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration features a full slate of events. Starting things off is the Daddy’s Day Picnic with porn star Drew Damon at The Saloon, 6-10 PM—show up and be one of the first to buy your collectible Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 Dogtag.

The action moves to the Minneapolis Eagle on Friday and Saturday evenings (June 23-24). Sunday afternoon (June 25) at the Eagle is the Leather Pride barbecue and beer bust—see the Out & About Calendar for complete details. Also on Saturday and Sunday, be sure to stop by the Leather Community booth at the Festival of Pride in Loring Park. On Sunday the community is invited to help carry the giant Leather Pride flag at the beginning of the Pride Parade (assemble at 10 AM on 3rd Street South between Hennepin and Nicollet—parade steps off at 11 AM).

The new Trident Minnesota leather club has also planned events for Thursday through Sunday (June 22-25); for more information visit their website at or e-mail them at

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Daddy’s Day at The Saloon
Sunday, June 18, 6-10 PM, The Saloon
The kickoff event for Minnesota Leather Pride 2000. Special appearance by porn star Drew Damon. Also free food and 75-cent tap beer and sodas, bootblack on duty, and spanking for the asking. $5 (or $3 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag) includes a shot.

Scorch Fireball at The Minneapolis Eagle
Friday, June 23, 9 PM-closing, The Minneapolis Eagle
$5 cover ($3 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Scorch Fireball at the Minneapolis Eagle
Saturday, June 24, 9 PM-closing, The Minneapolis Eagle
Leather barber Vince will be doing buzzcuts and bootblacking will be available. $7 cover ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Twin Cities Pride Parade: Help Carry the Giant Leather Flag
Sunday, June 25, assemble at 10 AM, parade steps off at 11 AM. Assemble at 3rd Street South between Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues
Leather barber Vince will be doing buzzcuts and bootblacking will be available. $7 cover ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Scorch Fireball & Minnesota Leather Pride Celebration
Sunday, June 25, The Minneapolis Eagle. Minnesota Leather Pride Celebration 4-9 PM, Scorch Fireball continues until closing
Bootblacking will be available. All-you-can-eat barbecue $6 ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag), Beer Bust $7 (a great regular value). No cover with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag; $5 cover without one.

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