Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco

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The Folsom Street Fair (FSF) is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair held on the last Sunday in September and caps San Francisco's "Leather Pride Week". The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as "Folsom", takes place on Folsom Street between 7th and 12th Streets, in San Francisco's South of Market district.

The event started in 1984 and is California's third largest spectator event and the world's largest leather event and showcase for BDSM products and culture. It has grown as a non-profit charity, and local and national non-profits benefit with all donations at the gates going to charity groups as well as numerous fundraising schemes within the festival including games, beverage booths and even spanking for donations to capitalize on the adult-themed exhibitionism.

The coordination agency, Folsom Street Events (FSE) is a registered charity and has also started similar events in Canada and Germany. In San Francisco they also manage Dore Alley Fair and special events like the "Folsom Street Fair Formal Leather Gala" with Joan Rivers which celebrated the 25th anniversary, and their annual circuit party "Magnitude" which has a leather subculture focus.

Origin of the leather subculture

Although sadomasochism has been practiced for many centuries, the modern gay leather scene in the United States developed beginning in 1945 when thousands of gay servicemen were given blue discharges from service after World War II and came to live in the major port cities of the United States to live in gay ghettos. In 1953 the film The Wild One appeared starring Marlon Brando and the more butch gays began to imitate him by wearing black leather jackets, a black leather cap, black leather boots, and jeans, and, if they could afford it, by also riding motorcycles. Many gay servicemen had played sex games with each other where one played the top and the other played the bottom. In the 1950s, the magazine Bizarre familiarized people with sexual fetishism.

History of the leather community in San Francisco

The first proto-leather bar in San Francisco was the Sailor Boy Tavern, which opened in 1938 near the Embarcadero YMCA and catered to Navy boys looking for some male-to-male action. It was made famous by the June 1964 Paul Welch Life Magazine article entitled Homosexuality In America, the first time a national publication reported on gay issues. Life's photographer was referred to The Tool Box by Hal Call, leader of the San Francisco chapter of the Mattachine Society, who had long worked to dispel the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate. The article opened with a two page spread of the mural of life size leathermen in the bar, painted by Chuck Arnett, a patron and employee. The article described San Francisco as "The Gay Capital of America" and inspired many leathermen to move there. These gay motorcycle clubs also organized many benefits for charity at various leather bars. During the 1970s and early 1980s one could see many dozens of motorcycles belonging to people who were members of these clubs parked up and down the length of Folsom Street on the Miracle Mile. Unfortunately the membership of these motorcycle clubs was decimated by the AIDS crisis beginning in 1982.

In 1979 the newly formed San Francisco lesbian motorcycle club, Dykes on Bikes, led what was then called the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade for the first time and has done so ever since (since 1994, the event has been called the San Francisco Pride Parade). By the mid-1980s, lesbian motorcycle enthusiasts in other cities began to form motorcycle clubs.

As these establishments for the leather community were rapidly closing, a coalition of housing activists and community organizers decided to start a street fair. The fair would enhance the visibility of the community, provide a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information (e.g., regarding safer sex) that bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute. Each year all proceeds from the Folsom Street Fair, including gate donations and beverage sales, are given to qualified local charities. These include AIDS charities and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who lead the organizing effort at the gates themselves. The event generates over $250,000 annually for charity.

Fair organizers present two live stages for alternative bands and artists. Previous headlining live acts have included Ladytron (DJ Team), Dragonette, Imperial Teen, Berlin (band), The Presets, The English Beat, Shiny Toy Guns, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, Nitzer Ebb, MEN (band) (featuring JD Samson of Le Tigre), and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, among others. There is also a dance area with DJs and cage dancers. In 2006, Folsom Street Fair introduced a women's area, first dubbed "Bettie Paige's Secret" then changing its name in subsequent years to "Venus' Playground." In 2007, an erotic artists' area was established as well.

Folsom Street East

Since 1997, a smaller event called Folsom Street East has been organized in New York City by GMSMA. There is no affiliation between Folsom Street East (NYC) and Folsom Street Events (SF). The artwork by FredAlert was used on the official event guide as well as produced as collector's posters that were also posted throughout the city for advertising. Some conservative religious groups criticized this as anti-Christian and blasphemous although media outlets noted that parodies and homages of the Last Supper painting like Renée Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper are numerous including ones by The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Phish, That '70s Show, Robert Altman (in the film MASH) and the Boston Red Sox. Senior Pastor at San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church agreed that "they are just having fun" with both the painting and the current notion of 'San Francisco values' stating he thought it was "tastefully and cleverly done." Miller asked for their logo to be removed from the poster with a statement on their website "while Miller has supported the Folsom Street Fair for several years, we take exception to the poster the organizing committee developed this year. We understand some individuals may find the imagery offensive and we have asked the organizers to remove our logo from the poster effective immediately." The Catholic League dropped the boycott within a month with no evidence of Miller's sales being affected.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives who represents San Francisco and is also Roman Catholic, fielded a question on this as part of her Friday morning press conference.

See also

  • Bandana code
  • BDSM fashion
  • Leather Archives and Museum
  • Sandy "Mama" Reinhardt
  • Society of Janus

External links