Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Spirit of Giving: Atons Holiday Fundraiser 2006

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #302, December 23, 2006)

BYLINE: by Steve Lenius (Photos by Paul Nixdorf and Steve Lenius)

’Tis the season. The Atons of Minneapolis held their annual Holiday Fundraiser Sunday, December 3 at the Bolt Underground in Minneapolis. A food drive collected about 1,600 pounds of food for the Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program, and silent and live auctions benefited Open Arms of Minnesota.

Auction merchandise included leather vests, pants, chaps, harnesses, several pairs of boots, a handmade bootshine cabinet, books, videos, posters and framed art—and a 2006 Santa Bear. Also auctioned off were several baskets of (really yummy) holiday cookies from the annual Kinky Cookie Bake.

My thanks to photographer extraordinaire Paul Nixdorf for allowing me to share some of his photos of the event with you. Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it—Happy Holidays from Leather Life!


PHOTO: Tim and John, chefs for the evening’s meal.


PC039333.JPG Tim and John with food (credit to Steve Lenius)

DSC-9764 Tim and John with food (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

DSC-9765 Tim and John, no food shown (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

PHOTO: PC039329 Some of the auction merchandise at the Atons Holiday Fundraiser.

PHOTO: DSC-9768 Auction merchandise: a leather harness awaits its new owner.

PHOTO: DSC-9813 A 2006 Santa Bear and an iron candleholder were among the auction items.

PHOTO: DSC-9856 Auction bidders inspecting the merchandise.

PHOTO: DSC-9898 Bruce, the auctioneer for the evening.

PHOTO: DSC-9906 Bruce, the auctioneer for the evening, assisted by Atons pledge Bobbie.

PHOTOS: DSC-9871, DSC-9872, DSC-9873, DSC-9874 Some of the food collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

PHOTOS: PC039354, PC039356 Atons associate Roger with some of the food collected for The Aliveness Project’s Holiday Basket Program.

PHOTO SUBJECT: The evening’s visiting bootblack (Pup from Madison) gave John’s boots a nice shine.

PHOTOS: DSC-9885, DSC-9886 Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006, as Leather Santa.

PHOTOS: DSC-9891, DSC-9892, DSC-9893 Craig telling Leather Santa (Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006) what he wants for Christmas.

PHOTOS: DSC-9894, DSC-9895, DSC-9896 Craig giving Leather Santa (Mark Beckler, Mr. Minneapolis Eagle 2006) a Christmas card. (The sentiment inside the card: “just shut up and be merry, dammit.”)

PHOTO: DSC-9844 The back of Sam’s vest showing club patches (credit to Paul Nixdorf)

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sexual Freedom . . . and other human rights

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #301, December 8, 2006)

It was a busy weekend (Nov. 8-12—a long weekend) in Kansas City. I was there for the 19th annual Creating Change Conference, a GLBT leadership gathering presented annually by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).

It was a weekend to talk about sexual freedom, and the fact that sexual freedom is a basic human right. The concept of sexual freedom as a basic human right is the message of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation (named for Victoria Woodhull, a pioneering nineteenth-century activist who was an advocate for sexual freedom and women’s equality during America’s repressive Victorian era). The Woodhull Freedom Foundation, as part of the Creating Change Conference, put together a weekend-long, mind-expanding and thought-provoking series of workshops on sexuality and sexual freedom.

It was a weekend to be visible in leather. For many years leatherfolk have been seen by many mainstream GLBT activist groups as something of an embarrassment. Recently NGLTF has taken steps to acknowledge that members of the leather community have played, and still play, a major part in the struggle for GLBT rights and equality. This year, for the first time, there was an organized leather presence at Creating Change.

In addition to talking about sexual freedom as a basic human right, Creating Change also was a weekend to talk about other human rights—and not only in a gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender context.

Sunday’s closing keynote speaker was Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator and co-founder of SisterSong Reproductive Health Collective (<>). Ross described eight kinds of basic human rights:

• civil rights, the rights guaranteed and protected by the Constitution, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

• political rights, such as the right to vote or to run for elective office.

• economic rights, including the right to a job with a living wage and freedom from unfair competition and monopolies.

• social rights having to do with human needs such as the right to work, to an education, or to healthcare. Ross stressed that social rights are not about charity or welfare. They are about services that are government obligations—services that are one of the reasons governments are created.

• cultural rights, the rights to be proud of, enjoy, express and live out one’s heritage and culture, be it GLBT, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American—or Italian, Irish or Norwegian. Or leather.

• environmental rights, such as the rights to clean air and water, sustainable agriculture and wise use of natural resources.

• developmental rights, such as the rights of developing countries to control their own resources and destinies.

And finally—

• sexual rights, such as the rights to sexual pleasure and fulfillment. Yes, these sexual rights are as basic, integral and necessary as the other rights listed here.

Ross noted that it doesn’t work to fight for one set of rights by squashing other rights. It also doesn’t work to fight for only one set of rights while ignoring the others—and she then presented a cautionary tale. Ross mentioned a book, Eyes Off the Prize by Carol Anderson (published by Cambridge University Press) that puts a rarely-told spin on what most people think is a well-known story.

At the end of World War II, with the world horrified at the atrocities of Nazi Germany, the NAACP saw an opportunity to push for full human rights for African-Americans. Unfortunately, the rising tide of anti-communism in the early 1950s allowed white southern politicians to successfully paint those human rights as a communist threat to the traditional American way of life. (Sound familiar? If the Soviet Union were still in existence, marriage equality for gays and lesbians undoubtedly would be the latest communist plot.)

The NAACP was forced to narrow the focus of its efforts from full human rights to a narrow civil rights agenda that was more politically acceptable. The result: a generation later, many African-American citizens in America still do not have their full complement of human rights.

Likewise, today we as a community can agitate for marriage (or civil unions, or whatever) for gay and lesbian couples. But if we do so in a vacuum, we won’t produce our desired outcome. NGLTF director Matt Foreman spoke about this in his “State of the Movement” speech, calling for “a vision and an agenda where equality is the floor and a transformed America is the ceiling.” (Read the entire speech at <>.)

Transforming America, Foreman said, will require working with and for “other” (i.e. not exclusively GLBT) causes—including the allied areas of reproductive justice, social justice, racial equity, environmental concerns and sexual freedom issues—as never before. If we do this, the ultimate payoff will be a society in which basic human rights apply to members of the GLBT community, the leather/BDSM/fetish community, and everyone else.

NGLTF, SisterSong and Ipas (<>) have collaborated on “Mapping Our Rights,” a website that documents the vast state-to-state differences in sexual and reproductive rights. Go to the website, click on any state and you’ll find a numerical rank (Minnesota’s rank is a middle-of-the-pack 22) and the positive or negative factors that determined that rank. Check it out at <>.