Co-hosting the Mr Leatherman Toronto contest
Dave and I flew to Toronto in November for the Mr Leatherman Toronto 2008 competition weekend. I co-hosted the contest with Karen "Ultra" Crecelius and taught a couple of classes during two days of educational seminars. This was only my second trip to Canada and it has snowed both times, so I was very happy. (We don't get much snow in London.) The local community was very welcoming and the event was extremely well run, so we're looking forward to returning.
I don't think that 2007 has been a very easy year for anyone campaigning for sexual freedoms or civil liberties. Despite the current political climate there have been some successes. Here are just a few examples of good things that have happened:
"For several years, the US Government has been misusing a federal law - Section 2257 - to try to cripple the porn industry. In August, the government published proposed regulations under Section 2257 that would have effectively killed adult social-networking sites like Manhunt by, among other things, requiring such sites to obtain and keep on file copies of government-issued photo identification from all persons submitting sexually explicit photographs. The public had until September 10th this year to comment on the proposed regulations. The Task Force set up an action centre to help people electronically file written objections with the Department of Justice. Leading gay adult social networking sites spread the word and nearly 100,000 people visited the action centre over a two week period, generating thousands of written objections.
On October 23 - and before the regulations took effect - the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Section 2257 because its extensive regulation of visual depictions of adult sexual activity was deemed to be an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. The Court reaffirmed that '[a]dult sexual conduct ... is in fact constitutionally protected.' One win for sexual freedom!"
"One of the highlights of 2007 for Stonewall was the introduction of 'goods and services' protections in April, something for which we had campaigned very hard indeed over a number of years. We had faced significant opposition from religious leaders to this legal change however we succeeded in persuading politicians of all parties to support them. It is now unlawful in Britain to discriminate against lesbian and gay men in the provision of any private or public service, from hotels to healthcare.
As the year finished, our Education For All team played a key role for the first time in Britain's Anti-Bullying Week and published pioneering guidance for schools, commissioned by the Department for Education, on how to tackle homophobic bullying."
For more information on Stonewall's work or to become a supporter go to www.stonewall.org.uk
Giving a demonstration during my class on escaping from rope bondage
"Working togther with other LGBT and human rights groups, 2007 was a year of many positive achievements by OutRage!. The international campaign, of which we were a part, stopped the deportation from Britain of the Iranian lesbian refugee, Pegah Emambakhsh, which probably saved her from imprisonment, torture and possible execution. We also helped win asylum for two gay Iraqi asylum seekers, Ibaa and Haider, who had fled attempts by fundamentalist death squads to kill them. In solidarity with Nigerian LGBT activists, we (and others) successfully lobbied the Commonwealth Games Federation to not award the 2014 Games to the Nigerian city of Abuja, in protest at Nigeria's abuse of human rights (including its persecution of LGBT people). But the biggest success of all was the Stop Murder Music campaign, which persuaded five top Jamaican reggae singers to sign the Reggae Compassionate Act, renouncing their past homophobia and condemning homophobic violence."
For more information on Peter Tatchell's human rights campaigns please go to www.petertatchell.net
"I was the Chief Instigator for the Leather Leadership Conference XI, which was held in April in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA). Having spent three years planning and producing the event, I was thrilled and somewhat awe-struck during the weekend as I watched the conference actually take place. The theme of this year's conference was "The Art of Sharing Power - a work in progress," and the leather/ BDSM/ fetish community's art and culture were woven throughout the weekend. It was amazing to see that, in spite of societal disapproval and the lingering effects of the AIDS epidemic, our community's spirit is still strong and our community's cultural life is vibrant.
Echoes of the conference are still reverberating in several areas. This Leather Leadership Conference represented a huge embrace of "new media" by leather. For the first time ever, all the major speeches (opening and closing keynote and Saturday breakfast) and many of the breakout sessions were recorded and are being released as podcasts. Also, the conference's final roundtable session saw the formulation of "Consent Counts," a major initiative to decriminalize leather/ kink/ fetish/ BDSM activities. If you haven't already heard about this, check it out at their website: www.consentcounts.org"
You can find out more about the Leather Leadership Conference and listen to podcasts from this year's event at www.leatherleadership.org
Steve's columns are available online at www.lavendermagazine.com, www.LeatherPage.com and www.LeatherLife.net
"2007 has been a very difficult year for those of us fighting plans to criminalise the possession of so-called "extreme" pictures of consenting adults in the UK. But as the year draws to a close, it is heartwarming that more and more people have begun to speak out against the plans. In the last few months Liberty have briefed the government about the human rights implications of criminalising thoughts and pictures. In the art world, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Barbican have organised events highlighting the implications of censorship. More than 50 academics have also stood up to challenge current assumptions about the people who look at dirty pictures and the effect of viewing sexual violence. And a number of MPs have now begun to highlight the problems with these ridiculous proposals. Whether or not possession is criminalised in the UK, the fact that so many people have been happy to speak out against the plans has helped to challenge the prejudice against "Dangerous Pictures" and the people who look at them."
For more information on the Backlash campaign go to www.backlash-uk.org.uk
The Toronto skyline, taken from Polson Pier
"At last, it seems the sexual rights of disabled people are being recognised in Britain. Several TV documentaries have been screened on the subject, showing residential home staff allowing residents the freedom to enjoy relationships and hire sex workers.
A small group I set up, the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance now has queues of people wishing to attend our meetings, eager to learn and swap notes and make changes. Of course, disability is a very good argument for the decriminalisation of sex work, and I wish we could think of a way to make disability a good argument for legalising every other sexual pleasure such as extreme BDSM and pornography! That way, disabled people would become sexual heroes and we could all enjoy the sex we want!"
"This year, we have had a full-on rash of conservative Republican politicians and public figures getting caught in alleged same-sex shenanigans of various inappropriate sorts. Very tasty. Apart from that, the world continues to grant same-sex couples access to various civil-union, domestic-partnership or registered-partnerships schemes, or to full-out marriage. Very tasty. Personally, several years ago, I moved from gay to post-gay, and now I've moved on to whatever comes after post-gay. I got bored with gay identity."
Rex's blog can be found at http://wockner.blogspot.com/
Congratulations to everyone involved in these advances.
I hope you all have a happy holiday and a peaceful New Year.
International Mr Leather 2003