Friday, April 28, 2006

Tenth Leather Leadership Conference Breaks Attendance Records

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #285, April 28, 2006)

The tenth annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) took place Friday, April 7 through Sunday, April 9 at Manhattan’s New Yorker Hotel. This conference was the largest ever with 347 registered attendees from 26 states, 3 Canadian provinces and one European country, Germany. Nine Minnesotans attended this year’s conference in preparation for hosting next year’s conference in Minnesota.

The Leather Leadership Conference is an educational event dedicated to strengthening the leather/SM/fetish community by developing the leadership skills of community members and fostering a greater sense of connectedness between and within community groups.

New this year were two pre-conference institutes held on Friday afternoon. One offered advice and guidance specifically aimed at leather titleholders. The other, which was for long-time leather/SM/fetish community leaders, explored advanced leadership topics including media relations, crisis management and avoiding both personal and organizational burnout.

The highlight of Friday evening’s opening ceremonies was a keynote speech by the honorable Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In this time when many of our civil liberties are being restricted, Berry framed the fight for “liberty of sexual expression” as a civil-rights and human-rights struggle.

Berry urged building coalitions with other naturally allied groups, such as those fighting for reproductive justice or against abstinence-only sex education, to finally bring about “liberty and justice for all.”

On Saturday and Sunday, conference participants could choose from 75 workshops organized along ten themed “tracks”: Activism, Case Studies, Events and Volunteers, Individual Skills, Media and Messaging, Outreach, Professional and Legal, Education, Organizational Development and Personal Enrichment.

The first workshop I attended on Saturday was “Leather 2006: An Overview of Issues Facing the Global Leather/BDSM Community.” In presenting the workshop, International Mr. Leather 2006 Michael Egdes drew on his experiences and travels of the past year. He also introduced Robert Ballin, creator of New York-based Leather Invasion (<>), which aims to increase leather’s visibility and acceptance by organizing leather “field trips” to museums and other public spaces.

I next attended “Finding and Dealing With an Event Venue.” Anyone who wants to produce a leather event, or any other kind of event or conference for that matter, needs to know how to negotiate with hotels and/or convention centers. For anyone in that position, this workshop was a goldmine of information and encouragement.

During Saturday’s lunch break, conference attendees could participate in five roundtable discussions with topics such as making leather spaces trans-accessible; submissives, slaves and bottoms in community leadership positions; political conservatives in the leather/BDSM community; a sexual freedom caucus; and a meet-and-greet with the Leather Leadership Conference national board.

After lunch I participated in a two-part workshop on in-depth interviewing and media skills. After all the people I’ve interviewed for this column, it was very interesting and a bit scary to be the one being interviewed. It was a great learning experience—I am now better able to talk in soundbites without sounding like I’m talking in soundbites. During my mock interview I made a few mistakes, but at least I didn’t have to worry about seeing them in print.

The last workshop I attended on Saturday was “Putting Sex Back into Leather,” a discussion of the desirability and feasibility of including, rather than disavowing, sex and sexuality in the political arena.

On Sunday morning I attended two workshops. The first was “Boot Camp—Military Leadership Traits & Principles for a Traditional Leather Approach,” in which I learned that, say what you will about the various branches of the U.S. armed forces, they do know a thing or two about leadership development.

The final workshop I attended was International Mr. Leather founder and executive producer Chuck Renslow and sociologist Dr. Robert Bienvenu discussing the development of SM and leather in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To say it was fascinating and spellbinding is an understatement—this workshop was so good it will be the subject of a future column.

Sunday afternoon’s closing keynote address was by Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He spoke about fantasy—the fantasies surrounding sex and family life that currently drive official government policy, and contrasted them with the way things really are. Again, I plan to write about this topic more fully in a future column.

The conference closed with New York passing the Leather Leadership Conference baton to Minnesota. Your humble columnist made a short speech inviting everyone to Minnesota for next year’s conference (April 20-22, 2007 at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis). Then the Minnesota contingent threw Minnesota trinkets, including single-serving packets of Spam and event buttons showing a picture of Spoonbridge and Cherry, into the audience. Visit <> for the official announcement and more details.

Author Jay Wiseman in Minneapolis May 5-7

One of the presenters at the recent Leather Leadership Conference in New York was Jay Wiseman, who conducted a workshop on “Conflict Resolution within the Leather/Kink Community.” He will be in Minneapolis May 5-7 to present that workshop and several others, and to appear at a meet-and-greet and book signing. Space is limited and advance reservations are required for all weekend events; visit <> for details. (These events are sponsored by MSDB and Smitten Kitten.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Minnesota Welcomes 2007 Leather Leadership Conference

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #284, April 14, 2006)


After months of whispering, now it can be said out loud: Minnesota will host the eleventh annual Leather Leadership Conference April 20-22, 2007. The theme of the conference is “The Art of Sharing Power.” The worldwide leather/SM/fetish community is cordially invited to attend.

The Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) is a national organization dedicated to strengthening the leather/SM/fetish community by developing the leadership skills of community members and fostering a greater sense of connectedness between and within community groups. LLC hosts annual conferences where attendees share their knowledge and experience.

LLC was inspired by the annual “Creating Change™” leadership-development conferences for the GLBT community presented by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). The first LLC was held in New York City in 1997. New York City also hosted LLC X, the just-completed tenth edition of the conference. The first public announcement that Minnesota would be the host for LLC XI in 2007 was made at the conclusion of LLC X on April 9.

LLC XI is within easy driving distance for folks in other midwestern cities in the U.S. and Canada. Those farther away will find they can make easy, often non-stop, air travel arrangements. (Or, if you’re fed up with the airlines, consider Amtrak.)

Host hotel will be the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. The hotel, which has earned a four-diamond rating from AAA, offers beautiful rooms and convention facilities. It is convenient to a dazzling variety of restaurants. And it’s connected by the pedestrian-only Loring Greenway to Loring Park, the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Keynote speakers for LLC XI will be New York-based photographer, artist and activist Barbara Nitke, and International Mr. Leather 2003 (and current chair of the Spanner Trust) John Pendal of London, UK.

Besides the keynote speakers, plans for LLC XI include a Friday-night opening cabaret program, a large and varied selection of workshops and seminars on Saturday and Sunday, and closing ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.

LLC XI is a must-attend event for leaders of the leather/SM/fetish community. But it’s also a great place for those interested in becoming leaders. Perhaps you’re a long-time community activist; maybe you’ve recently assumed a leadership role with a club or organization; or you might be new to the community and looking for a way to get more involved. If you care about this community and want to serve it, lead it and help it grow stronger—and you want to spend a weekend with a group of people who are committed to those same goals—you belong at LLC XI.

“The Art of Sharing Power” was chosen as the theme for LLC XI because both “Art” and “Sharing Power” reflect aspects of Minnesota’s leather/SM/fetish community and of Minnesota’s culture, history and politics in general.

Almost from its beginning Minnesota has been a progressive, populist, grassroots-oriented state. Minnesota’s political history is filled with examples of activism and leadership that flow bottom-up rather than top-down.

Not surprisingly, Minnesota’s leather/SM/fetish community shares many of these characteristics. Increasingly, community leadership has been shared by many different individuals and organizations, rather than being dominated by a few leaders or one large organization.

Both Minnesota and Minnesota’s leather/SM/fetish communities have become more diverse in recent years. While Minnesotans still may be stereotyped as Scandinavian and Lutheran (refer to the movie “Fargo”), Minnesota’s citizens and culture have become increasingly diverse in recent decades. For the most part that diversity has been accepted, if not always enthusiastically embraced.

Likewise, Minnesota’s leather/SM/fetish community has grown, and paradoxically both diversified and unified, over the last decade or so. Groups that formerly kept to themselves have started talking with one another, working with one another, and supporting each other’s events.

One of the results of this coming-together has been an amazing succession of annual Minnesota Leather Pride events—produced by, and attended by, members of many different community organizations. With the continuing success of Minnesota Leather Pride, it was felt that perhaps the time had come to take things to the next level by hosting a national, or even international, leather/SM/fetish event.

Minnesota is an art-rich state. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area is considered the capital for the arts in the Upper Midwest—there are two large nationally-known art museums, two nationally-known orchestras, and more theater seats per capita than any other American city (including New York City).

LLC XI will draw on the Minnesota’s amazing artistic and cultural resources to create a rich, stimulating environment—using the arts to help conference participants explore LLC’s traditional topics, community and organizational leadership skills, in a new and unprecedented way.

It has taken many hours from many committed volunteers to bring LLC XI this far, and it will take many more volunteer hours during the next year to make it the profound conference we know it will be. The LLC XI organizing committee invites you to consider attending, consider presenting a workshop, consider volunteering your time to help make this event happen.

Mark your calendar now, and watch the LLC website (<>) over the coming months for more details.