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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Last Night: SF Leather Pride Gathering at Chaps II

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 3:04 PM

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Last Night: S.F. Leather Pride Gathering

Chaps II - Folsom St.

June 25, 2008

Notes and Photos by Edward Paik

Men like Kelly Hart - in leather vests and matching black boots - would have been a common sight on Folsom Street three decades ago.

“This was the hot spot of the country,” Hart said. “The Folsom area, this whole area, had maybe 15 leather bars.”

Now he’s one in a handful of leathermen on the street’s sidewalk, leaning against the exterior of Chaps II, San Francisco’s only 24 hour leather bar.

Traces of the area’s past still remain on the outfitted mannequins and faded pinup posters behind the glasses of closed and unlit adult stores on Folsom. But scenes of leather and kink are gone.

“With AIDS and the ridiculous prices for rent, they all closed one by one,” Hart says of Folsom's bars. “This is one big community that kind of disappeared.”

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So when Hart, a representative for the Leather Community on the San Francisco Pride Board, decided to organize the first San Francisco Leather Meet and Greet that took place yesterday evening, it was in a way an act of revival.

Aiding what remains of the leather community, the gathering took place at Chaps II, which opened five months ago as an event to raise proceeds for the Stop AIDS foundation by auctioning off worn jock straps.

In conjunction with the San Francisco Pride Month, and its annual Parade this weekend, last night was a measure of how far Hart and the leather community have come.

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“In the past a lot of mainstream gay communities tried to focus the attention away from leather community because they were afraid the mainstream media wouldn’t be able to accept it,” Hart said. “Now we’re all coming to a part where we’re recognizing that we’re all parts of the rainbow.”

But it’s the difference, the heightened expression of masculinity that comes with that leather biker vest or the smell of leather pants that separates and brings this community together.

“We put on our suits, work nine-to-five, Monday through Friday, we have families, but when we punch out of work and get home then we kind of live the ways that we like,” Hart said. “It’s a large part of taking control of my body.”

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Steve Ng, a leatherman who supports the cause and waxes nostalgic for those days from 1979 wants nothing more than to "let it come alive again.” Ng’s witnessed people with a common fetish grow into a community, and he’s seen it die down since the 70s and 80s. The revival? “It’s not the same,” he said.

But Hart has faith: “When we’re all allowed to be who we are and are allowed to express ourselves then we all get to feel that much more empowered.”

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Janine Kahn

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