“I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am—not one bit.”
These are the words of the late Harvey “Jack” McGeorge, weapons inspector with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)—and a longtime leather/BDSM/fetish community activist and leader. In 2002, at the height of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, The Washington Post “outed” him as a BDSM practitioner.
To be able to make the above statement in the midst of a media firestorm—that’s leather pride.
In the Twin Cities and elsewhere across the nation, June is Pride Month for both the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities. We spend much of the month of June proclaiming our pride in ourselves and our community. Minnesota Leather Pride again has planned a full schedule of events, details of which are at <www.mnleatherpride.org>.
Some would ask why Pride celebrations are important or even necessary: What is it about being GLBT that deserves a Pride festival and parade? What is it about being a member of the leather/BDSM/fetish community that calls for participation in GLBT Pride?
Others wonder why leatherfolk should be proud at all—of anything. They note that other parts of our society classify members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community as sick and/or criminal. The American Psychiatric Association, in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, describes as “sexual disorders” many of the activities enjoyed by leatherfolk. Many of those same activities are illegal in all 50 American states and in the United Kingdom as well.
How can anyone be proud of that?
Actually, we need pride in ourselves and our community all the more in the face of these societal attitudes and prejudices.
Recall that at one time, members of the GLBT community were regarded in pretty much the same way. The American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality to be a mental illness until 1986. In times past, law enforcement officials raided gay bars, and arrested their patrons, on the flimsiest of justifications.
Eventually, gay men and lesbians got tired of being told they were mentally ill criminals. The Stonewall Riot in 1969 was the result. In the 41 years since Stonewall, the GLBT community has made great progress toward full civil rights—even though much work still remains to be done for progress to be made.
When will members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community get tired of being told they are mentally ill criminals?
Many of us already are, and have been for a while. Thanks to the efforts of some community members, the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t consider us as sick today as it once did. Work continues at reducing even further the psychiatric stigma of our proclivities.
Another community movement called Consent Counts, which started in 2006, is working to decriminalize BDSM activities. It won’t happen overnight. It might take 10 to 15 years, or even longer. But the groundwork has been laid, and the process has been started.
Quite apart from psychiatrists and law enforcement, perception of our community, our interests, and our activities needs to shift among the general public.
A recent survey of college students demonstrated that people with a friend who is an SM practitioner had a more positive attitude and less prejudice toward the concept of SM than was found among people who did not know anyone who was into SM.
It’s similar to the trajectory of acceptance for members of the GLBT community. It’s easier to be judgmental and discriminatory against “those people,” but harder to the same when you are friends with someone in the reviled group.
So, if you’re interested, put your pride into action. Get involved in the movement to remove the GLBT community completely from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Get involved with Consent Counts, and help decriminalize BDSM.
Even more important, be proud, and come out as a kinky person to the best of your ability. No, it’s not yet safe for everyone to be open about their interests. Jobs, spouses, and children all can be lost if one comes out—or if, like McGeorge, one is outed against his or her will.
But the more visible our community is, the more public opinion will change for the better. That will make it easier and less threatening for even more of us to come out, be visible, and be who we really are.