Friday, February 6, 2004

All About Pantheon

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #227, February 6, 2004)

Oscar®, Emmy, Tony®, Grammy®—those are the big four entertainment awards, honoring the year’s best achievements in film, television, stage and recordings. Leather has its own version of these awards, the Pantheon of Leather Community Service Awards—but even though they’ve been awarded for fourteen years, they still don’t have a nickname. This year’s Pantheon of Leather awards ceremony will take place Feb. 14 in the auditorium of the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago.

Pantheon of Leather was created and originally produced by The Leather Journal and its publisher, Dave Rhodes. Several years ago Pantheon of Leather was split off from The Leather Journal and became a non-profit organization with its own board of directors, of which Rhodes is the president.

The nomination process for this year’s awards began last September. Nominations are open—anyone can nominate and anyone can be nominated. (This occasionally causes controversy of the how-did-that-so-and-so-get-nominated type.) Nominations consist of a person’s name, address and other contact information, and—most importantly—a brief statement about why the person is being nominated.

Once the nominations close around the end of November, all the nominees, and all the statements about what they have done to deserve an award, are compiled to produce a very large document (this year’s was 65 pages, single-spaced). This document is then sent to the members of the awards selection committee, which consists of the recipients of Pantheon awards the previous year. The selection committee votes, the votes are tallied, and the award recipients are presented with handsome crystal trophies at the Pantheon award ceremony. This year’s awards selection committee chose from 248 nominees in 24 categories.

(Disclaimer: The following unofficial descriptions of the Pantheon categories have been composed by your humble columnist, and represent his opinions based on his observations of Pantheon over the years.)

Some of the most visible categories at Pantheon are Man of the Year, Woman of the Year and Couple of the Year. If the Pantheon awards themselves are leather’s equivalent of the Oscars®, these categories are leather’s equivalent of getting one’s mugshot on the cover of Time Magazine. The honorees in these categories have generally been active—and perhaps visible, perhaps not—on a national/international/communitywide basis for the past year (and probably for a lot longer).

It’s worth noting that given the nature of the leather/BDSM community, “Couple of the Year” is not necessarily a simple concept to grasp. The couple in question might be female-female, male-male, male-female, Master/slave, Daddy/boy (or boi, the feminine version)—you get the idea. And one year the “couple” was a threesome.

The Forbear award goes to a community pioneer, someone who once did something that is now recognized as trendsetting or trailblazing. It makes no difference whether the award recipient is still actively involved with the leather/BDSM community or whether they stepped out of the limelight years ago—their accomplishments are still remembered today, and the community is better off for their having been a part of it.

Leather clubs are some of the community’s most cherished organizations, because for many years the clubs were the community. The Pantheon award for Club of the Year was split several years ago into Club of the Year (Large) and Club of the Year (Small). Likewise the Club Event of the Year award now comes in (Large) and (Small) flavors. How large is large, and how small is small? Clubs and events generally classify themselves since there are no set guidelines written into the Pantheon rules. (The unofficial word is that a large club would probably have upwards of 100 members, and a large event would have 250 or more attendees.)

Many businesses depend on the leather/BDSM community for their existence, and the community in turn depends on them. Sure, you can buy a leather vest at a mainstream leatherwear store. But whips, floggers, and wrist restraints, for example, are not so easy to come by. We can all be thankful for the businesspeople who manufacture and sell the leather and fetish apparel, toys, and all the other accessories we want and need. We can also be thankful for the businesspeople who own, manage and staff the community’s bars, dungeons and other gathering spaces, and for the promoters who organize and present contest weekends and other commercial events. Pantheon has two awards for leather/BDSM-related businesses: Business of the Year and Business Person of the Year.

Pantheon’s Non-Profit Organization award goes to a leather/BDSM community organization that is not a business and not a club or club-sponsored event. Past recipients have included a variety of organizations including charitable foundations, educational projects and political-action groups. So far the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) have each won twice.

In addition to an International Award and a Canadian Award, Pantheon presents awards for community service tied to eleven geographical regions of the United States: New England, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Southeast, South Central, Midwest, Rocky Mountain, Northwest, Northern California and Southern California.

Every year Pantheon also presents a few awards whose recipients are not selected by the above-described nomination and voting process. A Lifetime Achievement Award is selected by the Pantheon board of directors; the Community Choice (Man) and Community Choice (Woman) award recipients are selected by direct popular vote from among those submitting nominations; and the President’s Awards, of which there can be up to three, are selected by Dave Rhodes.

So who will this year’s award recipients be? You’ll find out in a future column.

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