(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #233, April 30, 2004)
The eighth annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC8) recently took place at the Hilton Airport Inn, in the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, La. This year’s theme was “Routes to Power.” About 270 people attended LLC8, some coming from as far away as Israel.
Among the Leather Leadership Conference’s stated purposes are “to develop and strengthen the leadership and management skills of existing and potential new SM/Leather/Fetish community leaders and activists” and to “develop and promulgate broad-scope SM/Leather community policy.”
The conference was started in 1997 by leather- and GLBT-community activist John Weis. He modeled LLC on Creating Change, a leadership conference presented annually by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).
I was at LLC8 as co-host of a presentation by International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal, who traveled from London to talk about “International Leather Perspectives.” You’ll read more about our presentation in an upcoming Leather Life column; you can see what Pendal has to say about his LLC8 experience at <www.iml2003.com>.
The conference opened Friday night, April 2, with a keynote speech by Travis Wilson of Houston, Texas. Wilson, who currently heads The New Club, one of Houston’s largest and most active BDSM organizations, has been involved in the scene for more than 25 years. You can read his entire speech at <www.leatherleadership.org/llc8/LLC8keynote.htm>.
A total of 44 seminars were scheduled on Saturday. They were divided into 6 topics, or “tracks”: Community Issues and Power, Economic Power, Organizational Power, Defending Our Lifestyle, Personal Power, and Legal/Political Power. Conference attendees were strongly encouraged to pick one track and attend the seminars associated with that track.
Although I had intended to ignore this recommendation, I wound up sticking to the “Defending Our Lifestyle” track, and I was not disappointed. Every presentation I heard was excellent.
Saturday’s first “Defending Our Lifestyle” presentation was “Weathering the Storm” by Jack McGeorge, the UNMOVIC weapons inspector in Iraq who was outed as kinky by the Washington Post. It was fascinating, and a bit disturbing, to hear McGeorge tell his story of enduring a twelve-day media firestorm and its aftermath. But his presentation went further, offering lessons that could be useful to anyone suddenly thrust into a public controversy—or anyone wanting to be supportive of someone else who found themself in such a position. (Read the outline of his presentation at <www.leatherleadership.org/library/weatheringstorm.htm>.
Larry Manion, a member of the LLC Board from the St. Louis area, presented “It’s 2004: What’s Next?” Manion led the audience in considering recent events including the article about BDSM in the Jan. 19, 2004 issue of Time Magazine (<www.time.com/time/2004/sex/article/bondage_unbound_growing01a.html>), gay marriage protests across the nation, two BDSM events getting thrown out of host hotels last fall, and the few ragtag picketers who were at that very moment in front of our host hotel. Led by Manion, the audience tallied all these events—were we winning or losing? Where do we go from here? How best can the leather/BDSM community meet the challenges facing it?
Alan Maclachlan, a member of the LLC Board from New Orleans, and Jack Rinella, a leather/BDSM writer and educator from Chicago, teamed up to present “Hanging Ten on a Wave of Historical Inevitability.” Their thesis: Change “creates new social arrangements which frequently lead to conflict with entrenched ways of doing things.” An examination of the history of the struggle for gay rights in Chicago became a metaphor and a possible roadmap for the struggle for leather/BDSM sexual freedom.
Jay Wiseman, author of the classic SM101 and many other books, has been attending law school recently. He put his training as a mediator to work in an interesting seminar on community disputes and conflict resolution.
Dr. Charles Moser presented “The DSM and Internalized BDSM Negativity.” The “DSM” here is not the last three letters of “BDSM”—it stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th Edition, Text Revision), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This book of psychiatric diagnoses still lists Sexual Sadism and Sexual Masochism as valid diagnoses for mental illnesses requiring treatment. Moser discussed how these diagnoses support oppression of BDSM participants, how they affect the way BDSM participants feel about themselves, and why they do not belong in the DSM.
Other seminars in other tracks included “Transfriendly Spaces,” “Alpha Bottoms: Being a Leader in a D/s World,” “The Economics of Conventions,” “Tribalism: A Balanced Approach to Club Government,” “Surviving Burnout in the SM Lifestyle,” and “Grassroots Organizing for Beginners.”
Another notable seminar was a screening of a preliminary version of “50 Years of Success: The Satyrs Motorcycle Club,” a documentary film made by Satyrs members who also happen to be involved in the movie industry. (Well, the club is based in Los Angeles.)
Sunday morning’s agenda was panel discussions and Q&A “town meetings” by track: “What Makes Groups Work,” “Professionalism versus Volunteerism,” “Organizational Responsibilities,” “Separatism, Pansexuality and Political Power,” “Out or Not: Public or Private Lifestyle,” and “Texas Sodomy Decision.”
The conference ended with a closing keynote address by Dossie Easton, noted author of The Ethical Slut and other books.
Following Easton’s keynote address, Jared Keen, of the LLC8 Programming Committee, presented “A Destination Proclamation: A roadmap for change in the leather community.” This document, available at <www.leatherleadership.org/library/LLC8proclamation.htm>, represents “a compilation of points accumulated from responses to questions presented to attendees of LLC8.” After listing nine points, the proclamation notes that “If each community embraces one of these points, or even part of a point, the Leather Movement will begin to be recognized as a political, economic, and social influence in the world.”
In addition to the documents cited above that are available at The Leather Leadership Conference’s website (<www.leatherleadership.org>), there are many other documents from past conferences.
Next year’s LLC9 will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. And get ready, Minnesota, because plans are being made to submit a bid to host the conference in the Twin Cities in 2007.
That’s only three years from now. Time to get busy.