I just returned home from a fundraiser that was bittersweet in the extreme. It was entertaining, but it also was tinged with a profound sadness. I am writing this while the memories and feelings are still fresh—and somewhat raw.
On the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, members of the community gathered at The Saloon for “Speak Up Reach Out,” an event to raise contributions to The Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.org), a national 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. But we were not raising donations just because it was a noble thing to do, although it was. We were raising donations for this particular organization because suicide recently had claimed the life of Daniel Peterson, a member of the local leather/BDSM/fetish community.
I had seen Daniel around but did not really know him well. But there were many people at the fundraiser who did know him well—who had welcomed him into their leather family. Daniel’s mother also was there to see the funds being raised, and to see the community processing what had happened to one of their own.
Many community organizations and businesses had lent their name and support to the fundraiser. The evening was cohosted by the Atons of Minneapolis, Imperial Court of Minnesota, Knights of Leather, Minnesota Leather Pride, North Star Gay Rodeo Association, North Star Kennel Club, Twin Cities boys of Leather, Twin Cities girls of Leather, Twin Cities Leather and Latte, and Twin Cities Puppy Pack with support from The Saloon.
The evening began with socializing. Then the performances started, with entertainment provided by the Imperial Court of Minnesota, and members of the audience started showering tips on the various performers. The evening was emceed by Karri Plowman, co-owner of Twin Cities Leather and Latte, and Ida Slapter-Back, Empress XXIV of the Imperial Court of Minnesota. Featured music and dance performers included Ida Slapter-Back, Anastacia Rose, Sarah Holiday, Crystal Balls, L’assy Rabid, Billie LaTease, Ty Torres-Jackson and Evie Blank. Dylan, Minnesota Leather Sir 2017, performed a spoken-word piece. Bootblacking services were provided by Buster.
Funds were raised for The Trevor Project through a beer bust, donations at the door, bootblack tips, entertainer tips, and both silent and live auctions. The live auction item was a custom Minnesota Leather Pride backpatch (a patch to be worn on the back of a leather vest or jacket) to be custom-created by Karri Plowman and provided by Twin Cities Leather & Latte. Bidding for the backpatch was spirited.
But it was the silent auction item, Daniel’s own leather shirt, that most profoundly affected me. Daniel’s mother had provided the shirt so that it could be auctioned off, thereby letting it stay in the community, and the proceeds from the silent auction could be added to the other funds from the evening donated to The Trevor Project.
Daniel’s leather shirt was displayed on a table by the entrance to the fundraiser. Next to the shirt was a photo—the photo shown on this page, which is evidently a selfie—of Daniel wearing the shirt. When I saw the photo, I instantly recognized where it had been taken. And the recognition brought me up short.
Visible in the background of the photo is a very ornate ceiling vault that I recognized as being in one of the ballrooms at the Congress Hotel in Chicago—one of the ballrooms that housed the International Mr. Leather weekend’s Leather Market. I, too, had been in that very ballroom last May.
Had Daniel just purchased the shirt, I wondered, and was he memorializing his purchase with a selfie? I thought he looked happy in the photo. I thought he looked proud—proud of his purchase, proud of what he was discovering about himself, proud of what he was becoming.
I’m not sure why seeing that photo hit me so hard, but it did. This shouldn’t be happening, I thought to myself. No one should feel so much pain that for them suicide is the only way out. And no one should lose someone dear to them because of such pain.
Yet it keeps happening.
In the end, the final tally came to almost $1,800 donated to The Trevor Project. Sadly, that will not bring Daniel back. But it might help prevent the next Daniel.
Daniel’s mother had brought a journal to the fundraiser and asked those attending to write something in it—a story or memory of Daniel, for instance. I wrote a note to Daniel, saying that I was so sorry he felt it was necessary to end his life, that I hoped he had found peace, and that I hoped those he left behind would also find peace in time. And I told him that our community’s light burns a little less brightly without him here.