Sunday, November 30, 2008

Walking in the Rain Holding My Lover's Hand

The Plaza in Kansas City is one of the most special places to be at Christmas time. The architecture is very Spanish-influenced, and every building and store is heavily decorated with Christmas lights. It is in every good sense of the term a picture postcard place.

Last night, my lover and I decided to catch the new Bond film at a theater on the Plaza. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner first and, arriving on the Plaza early, decided to go in search of ice cream. Nevermind that we were bundled in leather jackets and gloved up, that I was wearing ear muffs and my lover a silly knit stock cap that makes him look like a naughty elf. It was cold. It was drizzling rain that bordered on snow. My lover had a craving for ice cream, and his cravings must be satisfied.

With the Christmas lights, the rainy snow and the chill air it would have been a magical night no matter what. Being with someone I love and who means the world to me only made the night that much more magical. I reached out and caught his gloved hand in mine, and we walked the sidewalks that way - hand in hand.

Nothing, but nothing, makes me feel more like a man than holding my lover's hand openly in public. Yes, people sometimes stare. We walked past one bar with large glass windows where straight people were enjoying themselves over wine in a beautiful setting, too. I could see the fireplace within burning brightly. But several faces turned to stare through the glass as we walked by. I couldn't read their expressions or their thoughts - it didn't matter.

We found a shop selling delicious Italian gelatto and ordered small cups. My lover had something mixed with Reese's Pieces. I had some flavor called "Wedding Cake." Maybe that was Freudian, though I didn't think of it until just now. A family came in behind us with three small children. My lover and I often share our food, putting small bites in each others' mouths. And again, I sometimes touched his hand or shoulder. I noticed two of the children watching us. The parents watched us, too. Again, I couldn't read their minds. They gave no signs of disapproval.

But it drove home to me an important point once again. In light of the recent gay marriage controversies, many gay people have spoken about the need to "educate" the public about our lives, about what it means to be gay. I'm never quite sure what they mean. The only "education" that matters, and the only "education" that is ever going to make a difference is just to be who we are -- openly and in public.

The most radical act we can engage in is to be in love. And to be in love at Christmas on a rainy, snowy night, bundled in the cold, under holiday lights, is magic and heaven and paradise. It is life-affirming and soul-affirming.

When I hold my lover's hand - that simple act- I know that I have a place in this world, that I have a purpose. Nothing can ever take that away.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Leather Leadership

During a recent leather weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the judges for the weekend's competition. The subject of "leather leadership" came up. One of the conversants asked, "What is leather leadership?" It's a good question, and it came up again yesterday when someone asked why there were so many posts about gay marriage and Proposition 8 on this blog.

The gay Leather Community does not exist in a vacuum. We are part of the broader gay community -- all the preppies and twinks, the drag queens, the lesbians and dykes, the transgenders -- we are all one large Gay Nation. We may segregate ourselves sometimes into our separate bars or play-spaces, but generally what affects one segment of our community affects all segments.

I believe strongly that leather competitions serve an important purpose. They help identify and foster the growth of potential leaders in our particular corner of the gay community. Winning a leather contest is not the -only- path to leadership, I hasten to add. But it is an important path. Chuck Renslow, Jack Rinella, Joe Gallagher, Frank Nowicki -- they all play or have played important roles in the development of the competitions, and they are all terrific representatives for our community. They are great leathermen.

But they are great leathermen because their efforts and labors extend beyond just a the narrow leather community itself. They are politically active. They serve. They educate and teach. They are involved in the wide spectrum of issues that face all gay people. They are heroes.

Leather leadership means more than just winning a leather contest. It means more than going on to judge still more contests. It has to mean more than belonging to a local leather club or giving the occasional speech about supporting the Leather Archives, although the LA&M is a worthy cause. Leather leadership shouldn't end when the leather comes off.

Leather leadership should mean Gay Leadership. Our leaders should be prepared and willing to stand up for all segments of our Gay family, speak for all segments, defend all segments when we're attacked or challenged.

The people who passed Proposition 8 in California, and who passed similar anti-gay amendments in Arizona and Florida and Arkansas ten days ago, attacked and challenged all of us. Including the Leather Community. So discussion of Proposition 8 is totally appropriate for this blog. As are any of the array of issues facing us, from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," to adoption rights, to ENDA, etc., etc., etc. It all belongs here because it all affects us - in or out of leather.

Best regards,

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Because Cowardice Should Be Remembered

With the demonstrations and protests currently underway in California in reaction to the passage of the discriminatory Proposition 8, it's worth remembering our own history here in Missouri. On July 13, 2001, in the dead of night and at the last possible minute, the Missouri legislature passed, and Democratic governor Bob Holden, signed into law an anti-gay marriage bill before any of the gay community even knew such a bill was under consideration. This bill paved the way for a subsequent state constitutional amendment that passed with 70.7% of the vote.

Note Holden's cowardly words in the article below: "I really wanted to spare the state the battle of discussion over this," he said. So the coward Holden not only stabbed the gay community in the back, he cut our throats so that our voices would not be heard.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Bob Holden on Friday quietly signed into law a bill restoring Missouri's ban on same-sex marriages.
Holden signed the legislation hours before a public ceremony for other bills and on the last day possible for him to either approve or veto legislation.
``I really wanted to spare the state the battle of discussion over this,'' Holden said. ``This is a divisive issue.''
The new law also refuses to recognize same-sex marriage ceremonies performed out of state.
More than 30 other states have similar bans. Only Vermont gives same-sex couples the rights of married heterosexual couples.
Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan privately signed a bill banning same-sex marriages in Missouri in 1996. But the law was invalidated when a court ruled the bill dealt with too many other unrelated subjects.

It was purest karma that Holden was thrown out of office after just one term.


Leather Scene - Kansas City, MO

(This article appears courtesy of the author and Camp Magazine,

Hey Buckle Down! It's Time to Learn About K.C.'s Leather Community
October 17, 2008 by Janet Ryan

One of the most committed and intriguing segments of our big gay family is the leather community. You may have noticed men in motorcycle gear wearing leather vests with interesting back patches. Maybe you’ve wandered into the Leather Shop upstairs at Missie B’s and had a chance to try on something racy. Perhaps you’ve thought about experimenting with something kinky in the bedroom and didn’t know where to start.

Some people compare their coming out in leather to their experience of coming out as gay. It is a process of self-discovery and acceptance, finding community, and living your fantasy. Kansas City has a rich and varied leather community that sponsors many events. All the clubs accept members of any gender and orientation and work together on events like the leather contests, which are similar to pageants, and the leather/uniform night upstairs at Missie B’s. Most leather folk are very approachable and friendly in spite of the black leather and tough exterior! Most believe in a code of ethics that include a safe, sane and consensual approach to sexuality.

The first club to come onto the Kansas City scene was the KC Pioneers in 1974. Full members go through a pledge period and take leadership roles in the club. Associate members are friends and supporters who join the club for events. Originally the club was centered on riding motorcycles and socializing. These days it’s less of a motorcycle club and more of a leather/Levi club or a back patch club, which is somewhat like a fraternity. Pioneers still refer to each other as club brothers.

Although the group is primarily focused on fun, it also raises money to help the community. Pioneers’ fundraisers include pub crawls, beer busts, coat checks and the annual Sadistic Santa Photos. Organizations that have received donations include Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, Kansas City Free Health Clinic and Southwest Boulevard Clinic, as well as local leather titleholders and title producers. The Pioneers belong to the Mid-America Conference of Clubs, an association of other similar back patch clubs in the region.

The biggest Pioneer event is the Trails’ End Run. The runs began in 1975, when they took place in members’ back yards. Activities included motorcycle competitions and lots of camaraderie. Today’s runs include games, food, a show and cocktail parties with costumes. Eventually, the runs moved to downtown hotels — the Hyatt hosted Trails’ End 30. The next run’s theme is “Mystery in the Master’s Dungeon,” and it will be April 17-19 at Comfort Inn and Suites, 770 Admiral Blvd.

The next community resource to be established was the Leather Shop, which was the first place in town to shop for high-quality fetish gear. The shop, on the second floor of Missie B’s, welcomes people of all levels and interests. The staff is always open to questions about the lifestyle and available to help fit garments. The Leather Shop is a place to find local clubs as well as hot leather fashions and fun playthings. It’s a fun and eye-opening experience. If you haven’t been there, what are you waiting for?

Craig Heslop opened the Leather Shop in 1983 in the second Dixie Belle, 1924 Main. Heslop has been a founding member of many groups and titles in Kansas City. He is Mr. Kansas Fantasy 1995, and in 2006 he was awarded Business Person of the Year at Pantheon of Leather, which recognizes contributors to the international leather community. He has been an organizer and steadfast supporter of the local leather community through the years.

Another longtime supporter of the leather community is Michael Burns, owner of Missie B’s/Bootleggers Club, which is the home bar for several leather groups. Burns has been generous and accommodating for decades. Many club colors are displayed on the second floor, and the atmosphere and wall art are leather-oriented. Check out the leather/uniform night upstairs on the last Friday of every month. The dress code area is open to people in leather or uniforms and men who remove their shirts. A very friendly crowd turns out, dressed for fun and adventure.

In 2002, a group was formed to offer educational seminars about the leather lifestyle. With tongue in cheek, KC Leather University (KCLU) and its Headmasters have drawn presenters from near and far to teach the technique and philosophy of various forms of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, master and slave lifestyles, fetishes and other related subjects. They have drawn the most varied crowd with members of Alternative Hedonistic Source and other pansexual BDSM groups joining in. They often hold the classes on Saturday afternoons during leather contest weekends. Local experts and nationally known titleholders have presented a variety of workshops, some about technique and others about the safety, philosophy and emotional aspects of play. KCLU will next present workshops on Saturday afternoon of the Heart of America contest, Feb. 6-8.

Leather in the Woods is KCLU’s main event of the year. Held during August in the Ozarks, it takes place at the biggest all-male, clothing-optional campground in the nation. It is another event where all the clubs come together and contribute to the success of the whole. Since the mission of KCLU is to have events open to all, it was able to arrange with the campground to let four leather women attend the camp for this one weekend each year. The weekend includes cocktail and cigar parties, demos, discussions, a mud pit, and lots of men wearing little or nothing. The campground has a restaurant, pool, hot tub, cabins and a great view of the Milky Way. Tent camping is available with electricity and running water. It’s a fun road trip!

The group in town that best represents the future of the leather scene in Kansas City is the KC boys of Leather. The club was established in 2002 and welcomes adults of all genders who identify as “boys.” At the turn of the millennium, a movement swept through the leather world recognizing the contributions and uniqueness of adults who identify as submissive and masculine. Many groups sprang up around the country. KC boys of Leather is considered a back patch club. Full members go through a pledge period, and the club accepts associate members also. “The boys” do fundraisers, such as bootblacking, beer busts and car washes, to benefit charities and the title contests.

The KC boys of Leather produce two local leather contest weekends. Contestants compete in categories that include speech, interview, formal leather and fantasy wear or jock strap. Panels of seven or so judges use the Olympic scoring method to rank competitors in each category and choose a winner. Titleholders raise money for charity and their travel fund. They are ambassadors to the local gay community, as well as to the larger leather community outside of Kansas City.

The fall contest is a feeder to International Mr. Leather in Chicago. From 1996 to 2008, Kansas City’s representative to International Mr. Leather was the Mr. Dixie Belle Leather. With the passing of the Dixie Belle/DB Warehouse and move to Missie B’s, a new title has evolved: the Mr. Bootleggers Leather title. Last month the first Mr. Bootleggers Contest was held and Jeremy Cherry won. His focus will be to raise awareness, especially among younger gay men, of the need for safer sex to reduce new HIV infection rates. He will compete in Chicago in May.

The other contest is Heart of America Leather Weekend, which will be Feb. 6-8. Winners go on to compete at the American Brotherhood Weekend. Last year boy Shane competed in New Orleans in July and was first runner-up. This contest system includes a fantasy, which is always the highlight of the show.

If you have an interest in the leather lifestyle, there are lots of ways to get involved and discover another side of the LGBT community in Kansas City. The Web sites have pictures of members and ways to contact the group and get notices about events. The Kansas City leather community is a diverse, friendly and respectful crowd that has interesting ways of adding excitement to your life!

(The author, Janet Ryan is a photographer, foodstylist and longtime activist in the leather community. She is involved with all the local leather clubs and is staff photographer and personal assistant to the producers of International Ms. Leather, held in San Francisco in the spring.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

HRC President Joe Solmonese on Prop 8

On Tuesday night, our community felt the emotions of electing a pro-equality President and expanding our numbers in Congress and state houses across the country, but the next morning our hearts were broken as the dust settled and it was clear we lost the marriage ballot measures in California, Florida and Arizona. I will certainly provide you with further insight in the coming days to how we effectively organized and motivated LGBT voters in elections throughout the country, but today, as we find ourselves in this agonizing intersection of victory and defeat, I felt it was important to try and give some perspective about our losses.

I've drafted the following op-ed that I wanted to share with you. I know that mere words aren't enough to provide the salve for our wounds that we desperately need but perhaps they will begin to shape a path for how we move forward. And for those of you who gave your time and resources, your sacrifices were not in vain. You've helped lay the foundation for the victory that will one day be ours. And I thank you.

You can't take this away from me: Proposition 8 broke our hearts, but it did not end our fight.

Like many in our movement, I found myself in Southern California last weekend. There, I had the opportunity to speak with a man who said that Proposition 8 completely changed the way he saw his own neighborhood. Every "Yes on 8" sign was a slap. For this man, for me, for the 18,000 couples who married in California, to LGBT people and the people who love us, its passage was worse than a slap in the face. It was nothing short of heartbreaking. But it is not the end. Fifty-two percent of the voters of California voted to deny us our equality on Tuesday, but they did not vote our families or the power of our love out of existence; they did not vote us away.

As free and equal human beings, we were born with the right to equal families. The courts did not give us this right—they simply recognized it. And although California has ceased to grant us marriage licenses, our rights are not subject to anyone's approval. We will keep fighting for them. They are as real and as enduring as the love that moves us to form families in the first place. There are many roads to marriage equality, and no single roadblock will prevent us from ultimately getting there.

And yet there is no denying, as we pick ourselves up after losing this most recent, hard-fought battle, that we've been injured, many of us by neighbors who claim to respect us.
By the same token, we know that we are moving in the right direction. In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22 by a margin of 61.4% to 38.6%. On Tuesday, fully 48% of Californians rejected Proposition 8. It wasn't enough, but it was a massive shift. Nationally, although two other anti-marriage ballot measures won, Connecticut defeated an effort to hold a constitutional convention ending marriage, New York's state legislature gained the seats necessary to consider a marriage law, and FMA architect Marilyn Musgrave lost her seat in Congress. We also elected a president who supports protecting the entire community from discrimination and who opposes discriminatory amendments.

Yet on Proposition 8 we lost at the ballot box, and I think that says something about this middle place where we find ourselves at this moment. In 2003, twelve states still had sodomy laws on the books, and only one state had civil unions. Four years ago, marriage was used to rile up a right-wing base, and we were branded as a bigger threat than terrorism. In 2008, most people know that we are not a threat. Proposition 8 did not result from a popular groundswell of opposition to our rights, but was the work of a small core of people who fought to get it on the ballot. The anti-LGBT message didn't rally people to the polls, but unfortunately when people got to the polls, too many of them had no problem with hurting us. Faced with an economy in turmoil and two wars, most Californians didn't choose the culture war. But faced with the question—brought to them by a small cadre of anti-LGBT hardliners – of whether our families should be treated differently from theirs, too many said yes.

But even before we do the hard work of deconstructing this campaign and readying for the future, it's clear to me that our continuing mandate is to show our neighbors who we are.
Justice Lewis Powell was the swing vote in Bowers, the case that upheld Georgia's sodomy law and that was reversed by Lawrence v. Texas five years ago. When Bowers was pending, Powell told one of his clerks "I don't believe I've ever met a homosexual." Ironically, that clerk was gay, and had never come out to the Justice. A decade later, Powell admitted his vote to uphold Georgia's sodomy law was a mistake.

Everything we've learned points to one simple fact: people who know us are more likely to support our equality.

In recent years, I've been delivering this positive message: tell your story. Share who you are. And in fact, as our families become more familiar, support for us increases. But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign—you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a "gay friend" when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights.

Wherever you are, tell a neighbor what the California Supreme Court so wisely affirmed: that you are equal, you are human, and that being denied equality harms you materially. Although I, like our whole community, am shaken by Prop 8's passage, I am not yet ready to believe that anyone who knows us as human beings and understands what is at stake would consciously vote to harm us.

This is not over. In California, our legal rights have been lost, but our human rights endure, and we will continue to fight for them.

Joe Solmonese
President, Human Rights Campaign

Amusing: Donate to Overturn Proposition 8!

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center is encouraging people to donate to invalidate Proposition 8 in the following way: Make a donation, in the name of the president of the Mormon Church, to support the legal organizations working to invalidate Proposition 8 and to fund grass-roots activities in support of full marriage equality. For every donation of $5 or more, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center will send the following postcard to President Thomas Monson’s office in Salt Lake City, acknowledging your donation in his name:

Dear President Monson:

A donation has been made in your name by _________________ to “” to overturn California’s Proposition 8 and restore fundamental civil rights to all citizens of California. The money will be donated to legal organizations fighting the case and to support grass-roots activities in support of full marriage equality. Although we decry the reprehensible role the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leadership played in denying all Californians equal rights under the law, we are pleased a donation has been made on your behalf in the effort to overturn the discrimination your church members helped enshrine in the California Constitution. Given that throughout its history the Mormon Church has been subjected to bigotry, we hope you appreciate the donation in your name to fight religious bigotry here in California.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition 8 - Bigotry and Evil Triumphant

Hi, Frank --

I'm sorry to hear about the victory of the proposition 8 forces. Bigotry and evil triumph again, and on the same night when Americaelects its first black president. There's an irony in that - an irony lost on too many.

I read a statement from George Takei this afternoon. He said that hetook the result "philosophically." I don't get that. I don'tunderstand why gay people aren't marching in the streets tonight in protest. I know I'm in Missouri, not California, but I still have a stake in this decision.

Let others celebrate the "tolerance" that Barack Obama supposedly represents. I don't feel that tolerance. I watch the anti-gay forces scoring triumphs in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas, watch important rights being stripped from gay people, and what I feel is anger.

So, why am I saying this to you? I guess because I'm thinking of MILK, and you were there when the gay community took the the streets. I don't understand how we've become so complacent. I remember standing in the Stonewall Inn in New York for the first time a few years ago. There's a plaque on the wall commemorating the night the Stonewall riots began. I felt great pride reading that plaque. Supposedly, we've come a long way. But I wonder if we've forgottenhow we got here. Not by hosting cocktail parties, that's for sure.

Anyway, I love you and I'm thinking about you.


Obama - Too Quiet on Gay Discrimination

I've been an Obama supporter since his victories in the primaries, contributed a small amount of money to his campaign, and vocally supported his efforts. As a result, I get ocassional messages from the campaign staff. I got one today thanking me for my involvement. I responded with the following:

Yes, all of this happened because of us. We stood with you from the beginning. Gay people stood with you from the beginning. Gay people voted for you by the thousands, worked for you, manned your phones, walked door to door for you. But you did not stand with us. I rejoice at an Obama victory, but that rejoicing is muted. In California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas, I watched my rights taken away. Let me repeat: I watched my rights taken away. Obama said nothing, did nothing to prevent that. I stood with Obama, but Obama did not stand with me. Obama ran an inclusive campaign, but the results are far from inclusive. Millions of black and minority Americans no doubt feel more than ever a part of this nation. Gay people, once again, have been shut out. The rights of a group of Americans have been subjected to popular vote, and in that vote, ignorance and bigotry have prevailed.

I still remain hungry for the change Obama promised.

Best regards,
Storm Christopher

My note was returned with a form response. Amused, I resent it a second time to a different mail address and received a different form response, but a form response, nonetheless, that had nothing to do with the content of the letter.

Best regards,

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

MILK - The Movie

I have a dear friend and mentor who had a small role in the new movie, MILK, which is about the life of pioneering gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. Here are a few of his comments about the premiere of the film. That premiere took place at the Castro Theater October 29th. It has a stellar cast headlined by Sean Penn and Josh Brolin.

My friend writes:

"Click on the first pic and you get a slide show... This was the
premiere--red carpet, a line of reporters and cameramen, across the street a
bunch of 500 "no on 8" protesters... Inside, packed theater, speeches by
mayor, Gus van Sant, head of Focus Film, everybody trying to find their
assigned seats.... Film is unique, intense--film opens with Harvey
dictating his last will and testament into tape recorder, segue into meeting
lover Scott in Brooklyn subway station, trip to San Francisco, renting their
camera store and then the main film begins... Great chemistry between Penn
and Franco (Scott),
Brolin great, ditto Hirsch and rest of cast. Sound track terrific,
screenplay by 33-year-old Lance Black is terrific--Black is charismatic,
friendly, charming, and beautiful... I was crushed out on him
immediately.... Film over, I'm sitting on the aisle and the real Cleve
Jones comes by and hugs me and I give it up and bawl into his shoulder for a
full minute...
Film is ABOUT something.... The story of Harvey's life and a good chunk of
mine. Well acted, well photographed, well written, dramatic beyond belief
(at least my belief) and it was all REAL. The gay community of San
Francisco with nothing played down--making love, rioting, deep tragedy...
Omigod time at end. Only flaw in my eyes was the crawl at the end said
30,000 were in the candlelight funeral march for Harvey. It was actually
40,000--much of the city."