Leigha Fleming, Interim Executive Director
By Lou Briquant
Whether you're a swinging couple, a quiet practitioner of SM, Gay/Les couple or single, or a member of a polyamorous relationship, there are people in this world who are looking out for your interests and your freedom to be who you are. Leigha Fleming is the Interim Executive Director of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a volunteer post that is a lot of hard work with intangible but fulfilling rewards.
Ms. Fleming got involved in the NCSF over the past few years. She tells us that she is currently doing any of several related jobs within the organization. "I most enjoy managing NCSF's Constituency Services, which include our Incident Response Program and our Legal Education Outreach Program. The most important qualities for any volunteer, regardless of position, is dependability. You have to do what you say you're going to do. You have to follow through and be accountable. We have to listen to what our constituents want and need from us, and we have to have confidence and to believe in our mission and vision."
Fleming never planned to be an activist or advocate. She was very involved in the SM-leather-fetish community and, as her participation grew, her awareness of discrimination and challenges faced by those involved in alternative lifestyles grew as well. "I've always had very strong opinions regarding governmental interference in private lives of adults. As I saw friends lose custody of their children, and SM groups getting hassled by the police, I began to get angry. Anger is a great motivator for change!"
Fleming happened to hear about the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) about five years ago, when her educational SM group began doing outreach to the local police. An NCSF staffer heard about the successful meetings, and contacted her. NCSF was just beginning its its Legal Education Outreach Program
(LEOP), so she got involved at that time. She believed, and still does, that the NCSF will make a difference.
Holding down a fulltime job, in addition to the necessary duties, is taxing and extremely time-consuming. She spends three or four hours a day on average, dealing with NCSF-related issues. The most difficult aspect of the volunteer work, outside of the time, is making sure everything is coordinated and follow-up is properly done.
The struggle continues, against with anti-privacy/anti-First Amendment forces that want to curtail the ability of our communities to meet, attend events, and become educated. "We had numerous confrontations with religious extremist organizations like the Concerned Women for America last year," Leigha said. "Their attempts to shut down our events continue. Fortunately, we local communities are beginning to utilize NCSF as a resource for dealing with media inquiries and for working with their local law enforcement."
"Our lawsuit against the federal government over the Communications and Decency Act continues. The court recently refused to dismiss our case against the government and so that is moving forward. We have a dozen or more "incidents" pending involving child custody and divorce and we're currently involved in a criminal case involving SM."
NCSF is in a growth phase right now. It's in the process of transitioning from a grassroots-model organization operated by consensus, to a professionally run national non-profit organization. Fleming, speaking on the changes, says, "They're making that transition very effectively. I expect to add more workshops to our Legal Education Outreach Program and, with the help of its new director Robyn Friedman, recruit more qualified volunteers to train. We also will be expanding and strengthening our ability to respond to both individual and group incidents. In addition, we'll be improving the internal structure of the organization and positioning ourselves to be a viable entity for many years to come. We will be filling our Executive Direction postion with a paid employee soon."
When asked what obstacles is the NCSF able to overcome in the near term, Leigha responded, "Like many non-profit organizations, we've been hit very hard by the downturn in the economy. We need to place NCSF on secure financial footing. We also need to put in place a system that can track and manage all the wonderful folks who volunteer for NCSF. In addition, we need to recruit and train qualified volunteers for our LEOP and Incident Response programs."
Fleming is responsible for the day to day oversight of NCSF's budget and finances. She says they have done a remarkable job of eliminating debt over the last six months, as well as having reduced their expenses. Fundraising Coordinator Glenda Rider does what Fleming calls "a magnificent job" of soliciting on behalf of NCSF. "We're working daily on implementing processes that increase our structural integrity."
As for problems up ahead, Fleming believes, "Our greatest external challenges in the near future come from those groups who want to restrict or eliminate the right of consenting adults to freely assemble and learn from one another. Another significant challenge rests in getting the word out about NCSF, and what we do for our own communities."
When asked what she thought of the relative amount of lifestyle freedom in the United States vis-à-vis other nations, Ms. Fleming has mixed feelings. "In some respects the US is freer. Even other first-world countries place restrictions on the practice of religion, press, etc... However, I would argue that the US is signifcantly less free when than other first-world countries when it comes to attitudes about sexuality and alternative sexual practices. In addition, the US has made a dangerous shift since 9/11. Laws allowing the federal government to invade the privacy of Americans in the pursuit of perceived terrorism have a chilling effect on us all."
"The NCSF's lawsuit against the federal government regarding the Communications & Decency Act is a significant challenge to the notion that someone in small-town USA has the right and ability to govern what a person in New York City creates online. In addition, we are actively working to dispel antiquated beliefs about alternative lifestyles, both in and out of our own communities."
Fleming has met with groups spanning the spectrum of consenting adults' lifestyles. "I've learned a number of things: First, I've learned we have a lot in common. Swingers, poly folks, and those in the SM-leather-fetish communities all face the same kind of discrimination. We all have the same challenges with our clubs, with educating others. Second, I've learned how much we tend to segment ourselves from one another. When we first included swingers and poly folks in our mission statement, I was so surprised to hear people say, "But we're not like them!" The SMers professed disdain for the swingers. The poly folks didn't think they had anything in common with the SM people, and so forth."
Fleming feels that our greatest challenge is uniting across our lifestyle lines, without engaging in fragmentation that could weaken or even destroy the advances now being made. Working together can help ensure safety and freedom for everyone.
**NCSF thanks Leigha for all her hard work and continuing support of our coalition.