From Issue 3.4 - May 1997
The Outcasts, a long-standing group for those who do woman-to-woman S/M, officially ceased to exist under that name as of April 1. The Outcasts originated in 1984 after the demise of Samois, the first woman's S/M group; only New York City's Lesbian Sex Mafia has been around longer.
Certain "core members" of the Outcasts determined that the group was no longer serving its original purpose nor operating within its bylaws, and decided to withdraw the Outcasts name and logo. A letter from 11 former members, founders, and officers stated their desire to "end the group in a deliberate and dignified fashion," rather than allow it to "noisily self-destruct."
According to a letter to the Bay Area Reporter by Kelly Wilkinson, "the rumors of [the Outcasts] death have been greatly exaggerated." In the wake of the decision to withdraw the Outcasts name, several current Outcasts members will go forward as a new group known as the Exiles.
The organizers describe the Exiles as "a more accessible and dynamic version" of the former group. The Exiles will hold monthly educational programs open to all women over 21 interested in woman-to-woman S/M; the first program was entitled "Guns, Knives, and Choking...Oh My!"
The Outcasts "wish [the new group] well," and will donate $500 in seed money and their stock of safer sex supplies to the Exiles. The money in the Outcasts account will be used to pay existing obligations, with any remaining funds donated to charitable organizations. The group's banners will be given to the Leather Archives and Museum and to the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California. According to Outcasts Founding Coordinator Gayle Rubin, also in a letter to the B.A.R., the Outcasts financial "obligations to the membership have been met."
The Outcasts will hold an event in the near future to celebrate 13 years of "proud and principled perversion," at which they will honor past officers and members.
For Exiles membership information, write to P.O. Box 31266, SF, CA 94131-0266 or call the voicemail line at 487-5170. Members will receive a monthly newsletter, discounted program and event admission, and discounts with selected leather merchants.
After 14 months, a resolution has occurred in the case of Steve and Selina Houghton [a pseudonym], a New York couple whose children were removed from their custody after authorities were given a stolen videotape showing the couple engaging in consensual, adult SM play.
On March 21, a New York State Appeals Court judge overturned a previous family court judge's order that the couple's two children -- ages 7 and 12 -- remain in foster care.
Previous to the family court case, criminal charges against Selina were dropped, and Steve pled "no contest" to a reckless endangerment charge in order to focus attention on the custody case.
The family court judge had ignored testimony of the children's' law guardians, several psychologists, and Children's Protective Services representatives who had testified that the children would be better off with their parents than in foster care.
Following the successful appeal, the children are now back in their home.
A Canadian dominatrix will take her case before the Canadian Supreme Court in late May. Terri Bedford was arrested in 1993 for operating a "bawdy house." Canadian law specifies that one cannot run a "bawdy house" for the purposes of prostitution or "indecent acts."
Bedford's conviction was originally thrown out by a judge because she was not charged with prostitution, and "indecent acts" were not specified. Prosecutors then appealed the dismissal and sought to bring new charges against the dominatrix.
Bedford and her attorneys hope to convince the Supreme Court that Canada's "Bawdy House Laws" are too vaguely worded. A successful appeal would weaken the laws by forcing police to be more specific when they make charges. It is not currently clear whether acts such as spanking, cross-dressing, and fetish play fall under the category of "indecent acts."
In 1995, Montreal dominatrix and Fetish Cafe owner Sylvia Wahl was also arrested on bawdy house charges, and her case is also being appealed. Wahl argues that a house of domination is not a "house of prostitution" or "bawdy house" if no genital sexual contact takes place.
An effort is underway within the National Organization for Women (NOW) to reform the group's policy on consensual S/M.
The New York City NOW chapter will sponsor an S/M policy reform workshop at their September membership meeting. That chapter hopes to encourage other local chapters to sponsor similar workshops in order to educate the organization's membership, with the ultimate goal of changing the national group's policy, which currently opposes S/M as violence against women.
According to e-mail from project organizers, "the NOW-S/M Project isn't trying to convert anyone -- we're simply stating that S/M is not violence and that it is our fundamental human right to make our own choices with our own bodies."
The project has a website and is seeking signatures of those who support the policy reform effort.
The first gathering for leaders and activists in the leather/SM community was held in New York City over the weekend of April 25-27. The Leather Leadership Conference was attended by more than 60 leather mena and women from organizations around the country, including SF's Society of Janus.
Workshops were held on coalition building, online publishing, group organization, leadership skills, volunteer management, and media work. Conference participants also discussed community issues such as the effort to reform NOW's anti-SM policy, the inclusion of people of color, education about the leather lifestyle for therapists, law enforcement officials, and child protection agencies, and various publishing and library projects. The organizers plan to make the conference an annual event.
The Leather Leadership Conference is part of trend toward increased formal organization and activism among leatherpeople, a trend which also includes increased leather/SM programming and participation in NGLTF's annual Creating Change conference.