(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #259, April 29, 2005)
Six members of the Twin Cities leather/BDSM community (including your humble columnist) recently attended the ninth annual Leather Leadership Conference in Phoenix April 8-10. The theme of this year’s conference, “Tying It All Together,” was an obvious reference to bondage that also had meaning on many deeper levels.
Why does the leather/BDSM community have a Leather Leadership Conference? If a leather aficionado wants to learn about leadership, why not just read John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Stephen Covey’s Principle-Centered Leadership, or On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis? Why not go to the nearest major metropolitan convention center and sign up for the next leadership-development seminar (featuring the people who write all those leadership-development books)?
Certainly, if one reads those books and attends those seminars, one will learn something about leadership (although doing that alone won’t make one a leader). But various societal groups find it helpful to hold their own leadership seminars customized to their own issues, politics and areas of concern.
Since 1973, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has held its annual leadership conference, “Creating Change.” (It was after attending “Creating Change” that John Weis was inspired to create the Leather Leadership Conference.) Other leadership conferences are presented each year to address the leadership concerns of women, youth, students, and many other subsets of the general population.
The planners of this year’s Leather Leadership Conference used elements of Phoenix’s southwestern Native American culture to great effect. One of the major themes running through this year’s conference was the concept of tribalism—leadership from a tribal point of view. The conference’s logo incorporated the imagery of the Native American dreamcatcher. The seminars were organized along six tracks: Vision, the Path of the Eagle; Values, the Path of the Turtle; Management Tools, the Path of the Hand; Case Studies, the Path of the Maze; and Organizational Viability, the Path of the Sun.
There was also a “Poster” track, a room filled with informational displays from various organizations, that represented the Path of the Kokopelli. In southwestern Native American lore the kokopelli is known as the seed bringer and represents fertility; these displays represent the seeds of ideas bring brought to the community, where they can be shared, nourished, and allowed to grow.
The opening ceremonies on Friday evening started with spectacular Native American traditional dancing, singing and drumming. Then Master Skip Chasey, originally from Phoenix and now living in southern California, presented the opening keynote address: “Vision, Passion and Direction: The Right Stuff for Authentic Leadership.” Here’s an excerpt:
“. . . as Carl Jung said, ‘The true leader is always led’ . . . . Authentic leaders know that on their own they are not, and cannot ever be, the compass for the journey; instead they must become, metaphorically speaking, a kind of satellite navigational system through which the Universe (use whatever conceptual term works for you) transmits appropriate directions. I believe that, as leaders of our community, we are being universally directed to concern ourselves more with facilitating the spiritual freedom of those we lead and less with demanding our place at society’s table, at least at this time. Once we are free of the false belief that our well-being is dependent upon social acceptance, then our demands for equal rights for leatherfolk will be a compassionate act of service for both our community and for the oppressors of our community, because when one is free one knows that oppression causes the oppressor to suffer most of all.”
(You will soon, I hope, be able to read the entire speech at <www.leatherleadership.org/library.htm>.)
This year’s seminar schedule was ambitious. A total of thirty ninety-minute seminars were presented on Saturday and Sunday, of which one could choose to attend up to six (four on Saturday, two on Sunday). Among the choices:
• “Campaigns Against Kink in the Twentieth Century,” a historical overview;
• “Creating Sex Positive Culture: A Sexual Renaissance,” a seminar about Seattle’s Sex-Positive Community Center (aka The Wet Spot);
• “Liberation—Assimilation—Evolution,” examining future directions for the leather/BDSM community. This seminar was presented by slave david stein, who originally coined the community’s “Safe, Sane, Consensual” mantra in 1984 and is now asking “Where are we leatherfolk going? And what will we do when we get there?”
• “Ethics vs. Morals in a Values-Focused Political Environment,” a fascinating audience-participation discussion that generated updated talking points for sexual-freedom activists. Example: in the previous sentence, downplay “sexual,” accentuate “freedom.” Better yet, rather than talking about “BDSM’ers,” talk about “people with adventurous private lives.”
Other seminar titles included “Tribes to Nations,” “Relating to Mainstream,” “Working with New People,” “Fundraising in a Tapped-Out World,” and two seminars on conflict resolution: “Healing Divided Communities, a Tribal Approach to Conflict Resolution” and “Conflict Resolution within the BDSM Community.”
Available for viewing all weekend, the displays in the poster room concerned topics such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Leather Archives and Museum, monasticism as a model for Master/slave households, erotic digital content and copyright, and understanding the difference between SM and abuse.
Sunday afternoon’s closing keynote was presented by slave marsha, a litigation attorney who presented “A Closing Argument for the Leather Leadership Conference IX.” Speaking straight from the heart (in a lawlyerly way, of course), she argued eloquently not only for the conference but for the community and our values, ethics and way of life as well.
At the conclusion of the conference the formal announcement was made of next year’s host city: New York City, the place that hosted the first Leather Leadership Conference, will also host the tenth edition.
After New York, will LLC’s next stop be Minneapolis/St. Paul? A committee representing the entire spectrum of the leather/BDSM community from the Twin Cities and surrounding areas has submitted a bid to host the eleventh edition of the Leather Leadership Conference in 2007. Will we be awarded the bid? Stay tuned.