Thank God for the religious right. Often when I suffer from writer’s block, a crackpot comes along with some harebrained scheme and I have something to write about. The latest loony toon who’s come to save the day (and this column) is Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth, “a newly reorganized national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.”
According to Wayne Besen, “LaBarbera is notorious for donning leather garb and sneaking into sundry gay S&M bars to take supposedly incriminating pictures of naughty gays. LaBarbera is obsessive with following the seamier side of gay life, even frequenting establishments where gay sex occurs. For him, no bahthouses are too remote to discover, and no dark, grimy dungeons not worthy of explorations. It is no exaggeration to say that the man has probably frequented more gay venues than RuPaul and Mr. Leather USA combined.”
Peter LaBarbera’s latest exposé is of the Folsom Street Fair, a annual gathering of kinky folk in San Francisco that proudly calls itself “the world’s largest leather event.” Not letting a good thing pass him by, LaBarbera crashed this leather party on September 30 in order to expose the depravity within. Since the Folsom Street Fair takes place in Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district, LaBarbera gave a detailed description of the Fair’s naughty bits in a letter that he wrote to the Speaker, hoping no doubt that she would be as outraged as he claimed to be: “I was in San Francisco with a videographer on Sunday, September 30 and verified but a small segment of the most immoral and outrageous sexual behavior that ever disgraced the streets of any American city.”
LaBarbera followed his introduction with a laundry list of debauchery; depraved acts that he assured the Speaker were going on in full view of innocent children. These included “large numbers of men walking on public streets either fully or partially naked; . . . groups of men engaged in orgies on the public street, including acts of oral sex and mutual masturbation; . . . theatrically dramatic sadomasochistic whippings and floggings; . . . ‘Master-slave relationships’ in which one man or woman would ‘walk’ their subservient ‘slave’ with a dog collar and chain” and so on. LaBarbera saved much of his outrage for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charitable group of gay men in nun drag that LaBarbera denounced as exhibiting “blatant anti-Christian bigotry.” LaBarbera closed his letter by demanding that Pelosi “condemn these public perversions and use your great influence to stop them from happening in the future in San Francisco.”
As if that wasn’t enough, LaBarbera held a press conference on December 5 for the sole purpose of denouncing the Folsom Street Fair. “Americans For Truth will be airing uncensored videotaped footage, documenting public perversions and nudity at the Folsom Street Fair, an open-air, sadistic sex festival held September 30th on the streets of San Francisco,” LaBarbera promised. Held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., LaBarbera was joined by fellow fundies Matt Barber of Concerned Women For America and Grace Hurley of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX). Though LaBarbera’s promise of hard-core, gay leather porn seemed sure to attract a crowd, less than ten people attended his press conference, according to Rebecca Armendariz of the Washington Blade, who was there.
The Folsom Street Fair [www.folsomstretfair.com] is one of four annual events produced by Folsom Street Events, a not-for-profit organization whose mission “is to create volunteer-driven leather events that provide the adult alternative lifestyle community with safe venues for self-expression while emphasizing freedom, fun, frolic and fetish and raising critical funds to benefit local charities.” Earlier this year, the Fair outraged the Catholic League and other Christian groups with its official poster, an obvious parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” where leather folk of various genders and sexual orientations took the place of Christ and his apostles. [Please visit www.folsomstreetfair.com/fair-info.php for the offending poster.] Though Andy Cooper, Board President of Folsom Street Events, hoped that “people will enjoy the artistry for what it is – nothing more or less,” there was such an uproar that the Fair’s primary sponsor, Miller Brewing, asked the Fair to remove its logo from all promotional materials.
By the time Peter LaBarbera called his press conference, the Folsom Street Fair had become a byword for queer debauchery. The Fair’s infamy reached as far as the nearby city of Vallejo, where openly-gay mayoral candidate Gary Cloutier had to assure a voter that he would not bring a similar leather street fair into their city. And there is no question that San Francisco’s liberal political climate allows a degree of public nudity and kinky sex unheard of elsewhere in the United States. (Compared to the Folsom Street Fair, the Leather Masked Ball in Fort Lauderdale is very sedate.) Using an obvious take on the Last Supper for its official poster was probably a mistake, since it did not do much but give ammunition to the enemy. And even I was surprised to learn that the Fair has no age restrictions at the gates, though Fair volunteers “do inform attendees of the adult oriented nature of our events.”
On the other hand, nobody is forcing Peter LaBarbera and his friends to attend the Folsom Street Fair, though it seems that LaBarbera had a good time while he was there. Those who attended the Fair – and there were around 400,000 of them – knew what they were getting into and were willing to pay good money to get into it. They also raised $350,000 for local charities and contributed millions to San Francisco’s economy.
San Francisco is proud of its liberal political climate, which is why many people hate it. And the crusade against the Folsom Street Fair is, to a large extent, a campaign against “San Francisco values,” which Street Fair President Cooper (like Speaker Pelosi before him) called “values of community, diversity, education, and freedom of self expression.” The religious right hates San Francisco for espousing those values. We only wish that the rest of the USA was more like “the City by the Bay.”
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author and gay activist who enjoyed his all-too brief visits to San Francisco and looks forward to his next visit. Write him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org