|GMSMA: The First 15 Years of Activism
Our First Fifteen Years of Activism
GMSMA is unique among s/m groups in that we continuously take action to improve the treatment of s/m leather people by society and to insure equal rights for all. The original model for GMSMA was the National Gay Task Force, a group created to activate grass roots participation in the struggle for gay liberation. The founders put activists in our name because they intended us to be busy.
The question facing us today is: with so many attacks by the right, so many serious issues in front of Congress and the courts, and so many distortions and deceptive clichés being presented in the media as the typical lifestyles of the kinky, what are our priorities and which actions will move them forward? Do we only react or is there some aggressive action we can initiate to progress faster? Perhaps looking at the past will show the path for the future.
In the beginning, we came out. Putting the letters "s/m" in our name was a bold, "in your face" action that has rarely been imitated. That caused our first battles. For example, the original board creating the new Gay and Lesbian Community Center decided GMSMA was not appropriate to use their facilities. Richard Hocutt, our President, attended an open forum and confronted the board in public. After a vivid discussion, the crowd agreed with Richard's position that leather people are a part of the gay and lesbian community and must be included. GMSMA got the right to meet in the Center -- of course, we had to fix up the big room downstairs by cleaning, repairing, building a stage, putting in lights and a sound system, and providing chairs. In the end, we are now strong supporters of the Center and vice versa.
The Community Involvement Committee -- the board insisted that there be no mention of politics in the committee name -- was founded when GMSMA decided to become the center of the s/m community. We were mandated to connect to other s/m, leather, gay, lesbian, or bisexual groups. We could respond to attacks and misrepresentations of leather people, but we could initiate no projects ourselves. Indeed, it was partly to keep control of CIC that the Board voted to have all GMSMA correspondence approved by the President and Chairman before it could be released.
Our first victory was convincing a psychiatrist to stop advertising that he "could cure s/m." Also, in the first years CIC sent letters to The Advocate, The Native, Drummer, etc. answering their false depiction of leather people -- or more often -- their complete dismissal of our community. And, by initially making contact through Gay Officers Action League, we began to educate the police about our community. It was GMSMA the police called to announce they were closing the Mineshaft and ask if we thought there would be a riot. GMSMA was also consulted in the Eigel Vesti murder case. (When asked if he thought this murder was the result of an s/m scene, one of our members responded that if the top had really been into it, he would never have left the hood behind.)
By participating in the choosing of the recipients for Leather Pride Night, CIC has helped initiate strong relationships with The Anti-Violence Project, The Center, GLAAD, and other major gay and lesbian organizations. Equally important, Leather Pride is a vehicle that brings together all the groups of the New York area. That cooperation allowed us to put on the Stonewall 25 Celebration for 3000 people.
1986 brought the biggest change in the character of GMSMA's political activity. The Board agreed that a few members of CIC should attend a meeting called to discuss whether or not to have a march on Washington in October of the following year. By the end of two days, we had orchestrated the first recognition of the s/m-leather community by a coalition of gay and lesbian organizations. Not only that, but as evidence of our importance in the leadership, the s/m-leather community was given a seat on the steering committee.
When we reported these victories to the Board, there was an immediate problem. Out of seven demands of the March, two caused disagreement among our members: the right of women to control their own bodies and a demand for an end to apartheid in South Africa. The discussion centered on whether these were "gay issues" and whether the Board could endorse a position that many members (especially Catholics) might find unacceptable.
Through discussion we were able to reach unanimous agreement that this March was an opportunity for the entire community, and we had to support it. This was a march for gay rights and we would work for that.
We then were faced with the task of creating a contingent. An independent committee was formed to do outreach and organize a national political conference for s/m activists. Initial funds came from GMSMA and all the New York committee members were GMSMAers, but it was felt that if others were to feel welcome, they had to have responsibilities, opportunities, and participation in decision making as well. Therefore, it couldn't just be a GMSMA event.
We created a national network. After research, calls, letter writing, and listening to a few grapevines, we set up ten regional coordinators so that there was someone near each locality who could provide access to the central committee and who could know how to build his or her area.
We made two very important decisions: if you thought you belonged in the community, you did. Gay, het, male, female, person of color, disabled, old or youngish, into heavy scenes or just liked the look. Everyone was welcome. And this didn't mean just wanting them to join us. It meant recruiting in places not usually approached, and providing opportunity to as many different voices as possible.
And we decided to have only one demand: that all adults have the right in private to express affection in any manner that is safe, sane, and consensual. The exact origin of the phrase is muddled, but our using "safe, sane, and consensual" as the watch cry of the contingent has turned it into a mantra that has given some common ground to an otherwise uncommon collection of people.
Even before the conference and march happened, some California women and I talked about how to create a permanent network of organizations so we would be a national force. In January, after the march, we held a meeting to attempt to create such a body. This meeting was in Dallas. We learned that s/m folk were very divided in the reasons for getting together and the willingness to demand change from society. Years spent trying to create a national coalition has only shown the depth of those differences.
But the march did lead to GMSMA and the leather community having many new opportunities. Our relationship to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) is an example of that. There have been leather panels at every Creating Change conference and GMSMA has been a part of all of them. By networking with the activists and professional gays and lesbians who come to this conference each year, we have gained respect and opened doors. For example, after participating in the 1987 Contingent, Peri Jude Radecic came out as a leather woman. When she later became executive director of NGLTF, she knew what we stood for and so arranged for us to join a group lobbying the National Endowment for the Arts about support for the Mapplethorpe exhibition and other s/m artists. (GMSMA hosted the largest meeting in New York on the Mapplethorpe controversy.)
We have led fights to differentiate s/m from violence and to bring community pressure against the Michigan Women's Music Festival so they will stop harassment of s/m women. It was GMSMA that made the treatment of the Thunderheads a national issue and raised money for their defense. We have given public support to men who have lost their jobs because they were into leather, to the women of Camp Sister Spirit, and, in a major way, to the Spanner defendants. We are involved with ILGA, Amnesty International, and other broad based groups that are being forced to deal with s/m.
GMSMA again led the contingent and conference in the 1993 March on Washington and the tremendously successful Leather Celebration in conjunction with Stonewall 25. With both events, there were editorials in the New York Times insisting that "a just society" respects and includes leather men and women.
We see over a comparable period that no other organization has initiated progressive action for our national s/m community. And the fights ahead of us are very big to take on alone: preventing Jesse Helms from successfully attacking ILGA because of member s/m groups; convincing Amnesty International that consensual s/m is not violence; fighting the referendums that would legally declare s/m acts perversions. In the broader community, gays and lesbians are under attack by referendum, Congress, right wing religious bigots, the media, and ourselves. AIDS continues to devastate and government inaction demands constant outcry. With a job so overwhelming, it is most important that we focus our priorities and begin the attack.
As part of the tenth anniversary celebrations, GMSMA issued the first political platform of any s/m group in the country. What is now called "The Six Points" clearly states what we stand for. These were arrived at after more than a year of heated discussions. Other points were brought up and rejected. This is a defining document and, while we have published it a number of times in different publications, may of our members don't know them. It is from this document that decisions on our future actions must be made.
When we look back at fifteen years of GMSMA, the things that define us the most are where we stood and what we did. We have been the political -- and moral -- leaders of this community for a decade. Working on common projects causes bonding among the members and excitement about the organization. And if we don't do them, they won't get done.
-- Barry D.
On the occasion of Stonewall 25, the Board reviewed the original document. Based on a changed political climate, the Board voted to expand GMSMA's mandate to include a sixth point. It is hoped that this document can serve as a guide for all of the s/m-leather-fetish community.
One note: the points begin with the words, "as part of the lesbian and gay community." GMSMA enthusiastically supports the diversity of the s/m-leather-fetish community and the inclusion of heterosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, and individuals who reject any labels. However, much of the specific oppression the community faces and most of the organized response to it is connected to homosexuality. GMSMA hopes that all s/m-leather-fetish people, and all progressive-minded people, will recognize the stake all of us have in the fights for human liberty embodied in these six points
(1) The need for increased government funding for AIDS research and PWA support, and an end to all discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status;
(2) The need to respond to the increase in anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence and other crimes of bigotry. We call for the passage and enforcement of hate-crime laws;
(3) The need to repeal all laws against sodomy and all statutes restricting private sexual expression among consenting adults;
(4) The need to extend to gay and lesbian relationships the same rights and privileges accorded to heterosexual relationships, including custody, survival and other familial rights;
(5) The need for an end to all other anti-gay, anti-lesbian and anti-s/m discrimination, including an end to efforts to censor the images of gays and lesbians;
(6) The need to oppose the passage of legislation and referenda which seek to legislate anti-gay, anti-lesbian, and anti-s/m bigotry and discrimination and the need to repeal such legislation where it exists.
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