Friday, February 29, 2008

New Giant Leather Pride and Rainbow Flags

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #333, February 29, 2008)

On February 16, I was at Vera’s Cafe in Minneapolis for what I thought would be a routine meeting of the Minnesota Leather Pride planning committee. Instead, to my surprise and delight, I was privileged to see history in the making.

Minnesota Leather Pride committee members at the meeting witnessed the signing of an agreement between Minnesota Leather Pride and Twin Cities Pride (formerly known as GLBT Pride/Twin Cities). The agreement is historic because it is the first official collaboration between the two groups.

The objects of their collaboration are the giant (approximately 76 feet by 29 feet) rainbow and leather pride flags that are carried up Hennepin Avenue every year as part of the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade. The flags, commissioned by Colin Spriestersbach and created by Carl Gscheidemeier (aka Allison Brooks), made their first appearance in the parade in 1998, and since have become beloved community institutions. But for several years both flags have been showing wear. So both are slated to be replaced—the leather pride flag in 2008 and the rainbow flag in 2009.

According to the agreement, both new flags will be jointly owned by Twin Cities Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride. Twin Cities Pride will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new rainbow flag and Minnesota Leather Pride will be responsible for care and maintenance of the new leather pride flag. (Similarly, any monies collected in the flags as they make their way along Hennepin Avenue during the Pride Parade, or at other events, will benefit the organization responsible for the flag into which the money is thrown.)

“This agreement is in keeping with Twin Cities Pride’s goal of reaching out to, and forging ties with, other local community groups,” said Twin Cities Pride president Bill Nienaber. Sam Carlisle, longtime member and chair of the Minnesota Leather Pride committee, said of the agreement, “We’re happy to be working with Twin Cities Pride. For a long time our two groups have been working independently toward the same goals. With this agreement we’ve joined forces to continue developing pride in both the GLBT community and the leather community.”

The agreement calls for the existing flags to be decommissioned and donated to historical organizations for safekeeping. Plans call for the existing leather pride flag to be donated to the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) in Chicago, while the existing rainbow flag will be deposited in the Twin Cities Pride archives, a part of the Tretter Collection, at the University of Minnesota. After decommissioning, both of the original flags will be displayed only as part of history presentations.

Why is this important? Why is it historic? For one thing, it shows the genius behind the original flags created in 1998—they were an idea whose time had come, and the fact that the flags are being replaced shows that they are still significant and meaningful symbols for their communities. Besides ensuring that twin giant flags will continue to be part of the Pride Parade every summer, the agreement also opens the way for taking the flags to other places and events.

But, even more than that, the agreement represents a bridge between two communities that are natural allies, and both communities are strengthened in the process. The agreement represents cooperation rather than separate co-existence. For me, as a gay leatherman, it’s a nice coming-together of two groups, both of which I feel reflect parts of my identity. It’s nice to see each group recognizing the other as valuable and worthy of cooperation.

Assuming the new leather pride flag can be procured in time for this year’s Pride Parade, a decommissioning of the old flag, and initiation of the new one, is planned as part of the parade. It probably will be an emotional, memorable and historic moment—much like what happened during last year’s parade when a plaque was presented to Gscheidemeier thanking him for his efforts in creating the existing flags.

This year, taking a cue from the current debate over marriage equality for gay men and lesbians, the theme of Minnesota Leather Pride is “Tie the Knot.” The Minnesota Leather Pride committee is planning its usual full schedule of Leather Pride events, and will be offering another in its continuing series of collectible Leather Pride dog tags.

The Twin Cities Pride theme for 2008 is “Free Your Mind.” In addition to its literal meaning, the theme coincidentally also serves as a reference to the pioneering Twin Cities gay-rights group FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression). Founded in May of 1969 (please note: that’s pre-Stonewall), it survives to this day as the Queer Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota, making it the oldest college-student-run queer organization in the United States. More details of this year’s Twin Cities Pride activities will be announced in the days and weeks ahead.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Baldwin, Thorn to Headline Leather Leadership Conference 12

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #332, February 15, 2008)

And check out podcasts of LLC XI

April. San Francisco. Leather. Any questions? Why would you not be there?

If you plan to be there, register soon—prices go up after Feb. 29. And whether or not you plan to attend, check out the growing library of Leather Leadership podcasts from last year’s conference (details later in this column).

Now in its twelfth year, the Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) is one of the leather/BDSM/fetish community’s premier leadership-development resources. Each year’s conference is a weekend-long program of speakers, seminars and exhibits aimed at developing the leadership, mentorship and community-building skills of the community’s members. Additionally, the conference seeks to create a greater sense of connection among community groups.

This year’s conference has a one-word theme—with a double meaning: “Arouse!” The primary aim of the conference’s San Francisco-based organizers is to arouse, excite and challenge attendees as leaders and as members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. In addition, conference organizers hope, according to the conference website, to “bring some of the sexiness and edge of what we do into the conference.”

Both of the major conference speakers announced to date (a third speaker is still to be announced) have been known to arouse controversy on occasion. The conference’s opening keynote speech will be delivered by noted psychotherapist, author and Radical Sexuality activist Guy Baldwin. For more than 40 years Baldwin has served the community as a psychotherapist, titleholder (International Mr. Leather 1989), author (Ties That Bind, SlaveCraft, The Leather Contest Guide), lecturer and presenter of many workshops and seminars through the U.S. and Canada.

Saturday’s featured speaker will be Michael Thorn, Instigator Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. Instigator is an outspoken and often provocative chronicle of “the next generation of global men’s fetish,” and editor Thorn is described on the magazine’s website as “a dirty fucker and relentless crusader for your right to be different. Able to burn a candle at 3 ends and still have his fist elbow-deep in yours.”

The “Arouse!” theme of this year’s conference is reflected and extended in the planned program categories (“tracks”): Evolve (organizational development/vision), Involve (event planning), Arouse (case studies/activism), Embrace (outreach/volunteer development), Ignite (high end/advanced seminars), Transform (personal enrichment/individual skills), and Influence (media/legal/professional/branding).

For more information about the conference, or to register, visit <>. The registration fee is $109 until Feb. 29, $134 until April 10, and $145 at the conference.

Host hotel for LLC 12 is the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway, conveniently located in the center of downtown San Francisco (and steps away from the historic California Cable Car turnaround). A special conference room rate is available until March 20.

Podcast Library from LLC XI Keeps Growing

Regardless of whether or not you’re attending LLC 12 in San Francisco, how about improving your leather self while you’re working out, commuting or just relaxing? It’s as easy as downloading one or more of a growing library of free podcasts from Leather Leadership Conference XI, held last year in Minneapolis. The 10 podcasts available include speeches by Barbara Nitke, John Pendal and Laura Antoniou, plus a number of workshops. For a link, visit <>.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Welcome, Black Frost 31 (and You Know You Are a Kinky Minnesotan If . . .)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #331, February 1, 2008)

Welcome to everyone who is in town this weekend for the Black Frost 31 run presented by the Black Guard of Minneapolis. (This year’s theme: “Boots, Bras, & Kibbles . . . Oh My!!”) Here’s hoping everyone has a great weekend of renewing old friendships and establishing new ones.

My hat is off to the Black Guard for successfully dealing with a last-minute change of location for the run. Black Frost 31’s host hotel was supposed to be the Ramada Downtown Minneapolis, which closed suddenly at the end of 2007 and is slated for demolition. The announcement of the hotel’s closing came less than two months before the run was slated to happen. That didn’t give the Black Guard much time to find a new host hotel, but they did. Good work, gentlemen!

Recent Minnesota Leather History: “The Whippersnapper”

In honor of our out-of-town guests this weekend, your humble columnist is taking this opportunity to rescue a bit of obscure local leather history, give it a wider audience and preserve it for the ages—I hope, anyway.

Last year saw the brief but merry existence of a leather publication called “The Whippersnapper,” a newsletter that existed for the sole purpose of drumming up interest in Leather Leadership Conference XI (held last year in Minneapolis). Four issues were e-mailed to various leather lists on the internet, and a final issue was printed on yellow paper and handed out at the conference.

The name for the publication was suggested by Lady Carol, its editor. Lady Carol also thought the newsletter should include some humorous items and came up with a brilliant hook upon which to hang them: “You know you are a kinky Minnesotan if . . .” She posted a message on a local listserv asking community members to complete that phrase and send her their ideas.

Following are the responses she collected and included in various issues of “The Whippersnapper.” I reprint them here, taking no credit whatsoever for their creation, and thanking Lady Carol for her service in collecting them and various members of the community (you know who you are) for coming up with them in the first place.

Please note that, while a few items on this list very clearly relate to preparations that were underway for the conference, most of the list items are timeless. Also, please note that much of this list also will resonate with our kinky friends from Wisconsin.

You know you are a kinky Minnesotan if . . .

• The term “hot dish” can be used to describe both your potluck contribution and your date for the evening.

• Boot worship might involve salt residue.

• You check the temperature before you wear vinyl.

• The bearskin rug in front of your cabin’s fireplace is splattered with wax drippings.

• Knife play involves cleaning Bambi during hunting season.

• You take up fire play just for the warmth.

• You’re at a play party and everyone is excited because there are lemon bars.

• You’re at a play party and people are knitting.

• You’re at a kinky party and people are swapping recipes.

• You go to a play party and half the people there are talking about LLC instead of playing.

• Kinky includes Leather and Flannel instead of Leather and Lace.

• Leather and Levis turns into Leather and Long Underwear.

• Patterned wool socks are not part of a humiliation scene.

• Your date has so many layers on you can’t tell if they are crossdressing.

• You call them condoms because if you ask for a rubber your partner gets out the hip waders.

• You power your dungeon with solar panels—and you write it off on your tax form to get the Energy Credit.

• You keep the current Ace Hardware catalog in the stack with your other pornography.

• You have ever planned to use mosquitoes in your outdoor scenes.

• You have included mosquito play on your list of hard limits.

• You realize you have spent more time working on LLC in the last few months than you have doing kinky stuff.

And, finally:

• The safeword is “Uffda!”