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.)

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