Friday, January 24, 2003

Fundraisers, Trust and Accountability

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #200, January 24, 2003)

Food drives. Toy drives. Auctions. Raffles. If you hang around the leather/BDSM community (or the GLBT community or almost any other community, for that matter) you will see individuals and organizations raising money for charity using a never-ending array of techniques, from balls to banquets to bingo. But what assurance do you have that the money you donate will go where it’s supposed to go?

An article in the December 19, 2002 issue of GAZE Guide took several local organizations, including the Atons of Minneapolis, to task for not filing reports with the Minnesota Charities Review Council and/or the Better Business Bureau. The article did not say, or even appear to insinuate, that there was anything dishonest about the way the Atons conduct their fundraisers—but it did suggest that filing with the Minnesota Charities Review Council would “insure [sic] donor confidence.” (The Minnesota Charities Review Council is an organization that has been in operation since 1946 with the twin goals of “providing information that will help donors make informed charitable giving decisions” and “encouraging accountability in the charitable sector by applying standards to selected nonprofit organizations and communicating the results to stakeholders.”)

When I asked the Atons about this, then-president Sam Carlisle responded (quite correctly) that the Atons of Minneapolis is not a charity, it’s a social club. Raising money for good causes is one of the things the club does, but not its main reason for existence.

The same could be said of other local organizations. The Black Guard of Minneapolis has, in the past, brought in talent from places like New York and Las Vegas to raise money for charitable causes. TIES has had several holiday-season toy drives, and the North Country Bears have twice collected teddy bears to be given to children in crisis. The North Star Gay Rodeo Association has designated various charities as beneficiaries of its rodeos through the years. But none of these organizations are charities themselves—they are clubs or social organizations which, as one component of their missions, raise funds to be given to the kind of charities that do file with the Minnesota Charities Review Council.

But what assurance is there that the money raised at these events will actually get to those charities? There is a one-word answer to that question: trust—the same trust that is so essential to so many of the leather community’s activities. Just as we trust that the person we submit to in a BDSM scene won’t violate the boundaries we’ve negotiated beforehand, or just as we trust that the person we trick with won’t steal our wallet or strangle us, we trust that event organizers will be honest and honorable and will turn over all the monies raised to the proper charity.

As with other areas of leather, that trust is not blind. Leather tends to be a self-policing community and this aspect of the community is no exception—we, all of us, form our very own Charities Review Council to ensure donor confidence. Clubs, organizations and individuals understand that the community expects them to be accountable and to do what they say they will do. They have reputations to maintain, and they know that any financial hanky-panky will eventually be found out, and probably judged pretty harshly.

That’s exactly what happened last year to an east-coast titleholder: He held an event advertised as benefiting the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). He recruited volunteers to help him with his fundraiser. He even publicized how much money was raised. But, several months later and after repeated inquiries, NCSF still hadn’t received the proceeds from the event. (The Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) in Chicago occasionally has had the same problem: someone has told them they were raising money for the LA&M, but the check never showed up.)

Not only did this titleholder disgrace himself, he also embarrassed NCSF and all the people who volunteered to help him with his fundraiser. Several of those volunteers eventually went public with the story, exposing the fundraiser as fraudulent and calling on the titleholder to do the right thing and turn the fundraiser’s proceeds over to NCSF. At this writing NCSF still hasn’t received any money and the titleholder’s reputation is pretty well shot.

Fortunately, the example given above is an extremely rare occurrence. The bad apples are far, far outweighed by the many honest and worthwhile clubs, organizations and titleholders who would never do anything dishonest because they’re honest and honorable people and, frankly, it would never occur to them that being dishonest was an option.

So—as long as the people organizing the events have proven themselves trustworthy—go to the fundraisers, bring the food to the food drives and the toys to the toy drives and buy the raffle tickets. Enjoy the events and enjoy the good feeling that comes from knowing your contributions are going where they’re supposed to go and doing what they’re supposed to do.

There’s another aspect of leather or GLBT organizations raising money for charities that needs to be pointed out: I’ve seen several instances where money was raised but a charity would not accept it because they didn’t like the folks who raised it. Charities that practice this kind of discrimination might think they are upholding their moral principles by refusing to accept what they consider to be tainted donations. But these charities should realize that such discrimination makes them look pretty uncharitable in the eyes of many.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Previewing The Bolt: New Bar Set to Open Next Door to Minneapolis Eagle

(Article published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #199, January 10, 2003)

The long-awaited expansion of The Minneapolis Eagle is about to become a reality. In the near future, a new bar called The Bolt will debut adjacent to the Eagle at 513 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis.

The new bar’s tag line—“I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation” (taken from a Joan Jett song)—describes the atmosphere Eagle and Bolt owner Ed Hopkins will be trying to create at the new place.

The Bolt’s doors were opened to the community for a sneak preview on New Year’s Eve in a condition Hopkins described as “75% done.” Visitors that night got an idea of the bar’s layout: they saw the plywood frame for the rectangular “racetrack” cruise bar (to be covered with a stainless-steel top, diamond-plate sides and galvanized-pipe railings and fittings) in the front half of the room. The back half of the room is devoted to the dance floor, and a back hallway from the dance floor area leads to the patio that The Bolt will share with The Minneapolis Eagle. The DJ booth is in a glassed-in area above the front entrance. The ceiling is high, and the black-painted walls will be illuminated with hanging high-school-gymnasium light fixtures. Hopkins designed the bar himself, working in conjunction with his general contractor.

A roll-up garage door in the center of one wall will be open at certain times to allow the crowds at The Bolt and The Minneapolis Eagle to mix but will separate the bars when the Eagle’s leather/levi dress code is being enforced. The Bolt, while hoping to attract a clientele somewhat similar to the Eagle’s, won’t have a dress code. “It has broken my heart to have to turn someone away from the Eagle because they couldn’t meet the dress code,” says Hopkins. “Now we can just send them next door.” One thing Hopkins says he hopes The Bolt will have in common with The Minneapolis Eagle is a reputation for being a friendly, no-attitude kind of place.

Hopkins makes no secret that he adores his staff. They’ve been instrumental in helping him get The Bolt going, and he says “Without them I could never do this.” DJ Joe Zapien will handle DJ duties on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Minneapolis Eagle bartender Jess will be The Bolt’s lead bartender on Wednesday nights and is planning a DJ contest to find and hire a DJ for other nights of the week. Former Minneapolis Eagle bartender Karl is back in town and will be The Bolt’s lead bartender for Tuesday’s “Classic Disco” nights. Plans call for various other theme nights throughout the week, possibly including women’s and country nights.

Now that The Bolt has had its preview on New Year’s Eve, Hopkins wants to get the rest of the construction finished before announcing the official opening date. Once it’s up and running, The Bolt will be open until 3 AM Fridays and Saturdays and 2AM Sundays.

Atons Holiday Fundraiser benefits Aliveness Project

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #199, January 10, 2003)

As we wave goodbye to the 2002 holiday season, here are some photos from the annual Atons Holiday Fundraiser, which was held December 15 at The Saloon. The event’s sole beneficiary was The Aliveness Project.


Members, associates, friends and other supporters of the Atons surround some of the 900 pounds of grocery items collected at the fundraiser for the Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket program. From left: Robby Roberts, Mark Ludwig, Dennis Wunderlich, Paul “Nicky” Nicholson and Jim Courtney.

Atons members Sam Carlisle (club president), Matt Grimes, and Paul Rozendaal at the auction cashier table. The 4th annual Silent Auction, along with door receipts, raised over $2,700 for The Aliveness Project.

At their Holiday Fundraiser the Atons introduced several new Associate Members and two new Pledges (candidates for full membership). New Associate Members, from left: Josh Conrade, Andrew Bertke, Jack Erickson, Jim and (separate photo) Kellen Slagle.

New Atons Pledge Lars McCrary (left) with Keith Cheetham, Atons Pledgemaster (right).

Keith Cheetham, Atons Pledgemaster (left) congratulates new Atons Pledge Vince McGhee.

Leather barber Vince McGhee and his barber chair were busy all evening. He’s shown here giving Brad Rystedt a trim.

The evening’s special leather guest entertainer Barry Barrett (seated) gets his boots shined by bootblack Kelley Herridge. Barrett later modeled some of the Silent Auction items.

Atons “Snowball” Sunday, Jan. 12

The next Atons event, “Snowball,” takes place on Sunday, January 12, 6-10 PM at The Tank. $5 at the door includes beer, soda and hors d’oeuvres.