In 2003, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) once again took the lead in defending the rights of individuals and groups in the SM-leather-fetish, swing and polyamory communities. NCSF's coalition of 38 educational and social groups is committed to creating a political, legal, and social environment in the United States that advances equal rights of consenting adults who practice forms of alternative sexual expression.
Leigha Fleming directs NCSF's Incident Response team. In total during 2003, NCSF responded to more than 500 cases, with more than 1,300 contacts between NCSF and individuals, groups, attorneys, prosecutors, and businesses that requested assistance. Some incidents required only one or two phone calls, but many evolved into much larger projects such as the attacks by religious political groups against SM conferences.
In 42% of the incidents, NCSF assisted individuals. The largest category of incidents involved parents who were engaged in child custody and divorce cases. Parents continue to experience difficulties gaining child custody due to their interest in SM, swing or poly activities. NCSF worked with a number of attorneys representing parents accused of being unfit because of their alternative lifestyle interests. In many cases, because of information we were able to provide, the courts decided that alternative sexual expression alone was not cause to impugn a parent's ability to be a good parent.
We also helped families dealing with child protective services because of their alternative lifestyle interests.
NCSF saw a sharp rise in the number of requests for help from individuals experiencing employment discrimination because of their involvement in alternative lifestyles in 2003. Individuals also consulted with NCSF on a variety of other issues, including: the legality of obscene materials, guidelines for posting sexually frank information on websites, the law regarding private parties, criminal cases, dealing with law enforcement and dealing with personal media exposure.
In 2003, NCSF also opposed zoning and other local regulatory measures against those who practice some form of alternative sexual expression. NCSF assisted the swing communities in Illinois and North Carolina by working with them to fight back against punitive zoning restrictions. In addition, we extended our outreach to the polyamory community in 2003 by working with individuals impacted by discrimination against their relationship style.
Opposition to SM events based on religious concerns continued in 2003. The host hotel for My Vicious Valentine (February 14-16) received calls from Concerned Women for America at the end of January. The CWA attack against My Vicious Valentine fizzled out, in large part due to the extensive education about SM events that NCSF did for local authorities in 2002. Only one reporter called NCSF from the hotline number posted on MVV's website.
The Tribal Fire conference (April 4-6) in Oklahoma was again targeted by religious groups who took out ads in the local papers denouncing SM practices and threatening to picket the event. Tribal Fire's organizers met with the police detective and the hotel to ensure the event would go on as planned. However four Mennonites held a prayer vigil in the hotel lobby for 72 hours. NCSF staff members attended Tribal Fire and spoke out about the importance of standing up for our rights.
When Concerned Women for America attacked International Mr. Leather (May 30-June 1) they quoted the Illinois State Health Department as saying there is a higher rate of STDs in homosexual men. CWA proclaimed that IML was therefore a danger to employees and guests at the host hotel. Susan Wright contacted the Illinois State Health Department, and the AIDS/Infectious Diseases department declared they would speak to any media outlet to debunk the CWA's absurd claims. IML was held as planned.
The Black Rose conference (November 11-14) was forced to move from Ocean City, Maryland, back to their former host hotel in New Carrollton, Maryland when two churches in Ocean City led a grass-roots movement to prevent the event from taking place in their rural resort town. There was a great deal of initial confusion regarding Black Rose's media response, and as a result, there were many misrepresentations and prejudicial and inaccurate descriptions included in the articles in the Maryland Coast Dispatch and the Daily Times of Salisbury which inflamed the situation. NCSF attempted to mediate the situation by providing accurate and unbiased information on SM/leather/fetish to the local media.
Fetish in the Fall (November 20-23) scheduled to take place in Kenner, Louisiana (part of metropolitan New Orleans) was moved after it was attacked by the Kenner police chief. Police Chief Nick Congemi urged hotel managers to decline any request to hold the event in any Kenner hotel. In his letter and press release to the media, Chief Congemi stated that "allowing the event to take place would seriously jeopardize the family atmosphere for which Kenner is noted." Congemi had already announced his run for mayor of Kenner (election held in March, 2004). For many years prior to this, Congemi had allowed his police officers to work as off-duty security for the adult swing conference in Kenner, N'awlins in November, produced by the same company that produced Fetish in the Fall. NCSF was called in immediately and was able to generate positive media coverage of this incident.
NCSF also opposed zoning and other local regulatory measures against those who practice some form of alternative sexual expression. NCSF assisted the swing communities in North Carolina and Illinois by holding open-forum discussions about how to affect zoning regulations and current litigation against lifestyle clubs. NCSF also worked with the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA) to lobby against the Washington DC's Alcoholic Beverage Control regulation 905, which has been used to prohibit SM play in local establishments with liquor licenses even when liquor isn't being sold or consumed. In response to an Action Alert created and distributed in conjunction with D.C. Sexual Minority Advocates (DCSMA), NCSF received over 130 cc'ed letters from community members stating they were concerned that this regulation will prevent SM community spaces from existing in Washington D.C.
The Labyrinth in Denver, a community SM space, was shut down by a restraining order because of zoning violations. The undercover investigation took many months. The Denver community organized an ad hoc group called COSMA (Colorado SM Advocates) to fight for their right to have an SM club. NCSF conducted multiple interviews with the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Lakewood Sentinel, Channel 7, ABC affiliate, and KHOW 630 AM radio during this incident.
NCSF gave 67 media interviews in 2003, with Susan Wright, Spokesperson, giving 49 interviews and Sue Gould, Swing Spokesperson, giving 18 interviews. Clubs and businesses regularly contact NCSF to receive media training for incidents or prior to holding an event.
NCSF began working with John Cloud, a reporter with Time Magazine in November 2003 on an article about the SM community, its history and practices. NCSF assisted in locating appropriate people in the SM community to be interviewed. Several SM conferences considered allowing the reporter into their event, but concerns over privacy prevented that. The positive article was published in January 2004.
In Indianapolis, a female professional dominant gave an interview with the local newspaper and Channel 6 News in May. This caused serious problems for her because she was located near a church-school and ran a home-based business (a D/s and role-play salon) with no business license or permits. The media and police received an anonymous tip about her illegal business operation. NCSF encouraged her to seek proper zoning, educated her about dealing with the media, and responded to media inquiries for her.
In March, NCSF was contacted by concerned community members about the Black Party's promo image, which showed a young man with a black eye and split lip. NCSF protested to the producers of the Black Party in NYC that this image doesn't portray SM but rather shows abuse. The NYC Anti-Violence Project, the National Coalition against Violence and other groups joined in this effort, writing to the producers protesting this image.
In one media incident, a nonprofit club in Muncie, Indiana, was threatened with closure along with a nearby strip bar until the media was educated about safe, sane and consensual SM. NCSF also gave media assistance to a swing club in Connecticut which was closed because of zoning issues.
Another media incident involved Nerve.com when they published a series of articles in June entitled "Letters from Leather Camp." The Nerve reporter infiltrated a private event, Leather Retreat. Leather Retreat didn't have a clause in their release form preventing reporters from writing for a commercial media outlet. Susan Wright negotiated with Michael Martin, Editor-in-Chief at Nerve.com, and sent out Nerve's statement and apology in NCSF's Media Update covering the articles. The comments section of Nerve.com was reinstated so SM community members could respond to the articles, and the articles themselves were purged of their most reprehensible comments.
Job discrimination continues to be a problem for individuals. NCSF helped more than a twenty people draft and file formal complaints with their employers regarding employment discrimination claims. One West Virginia woman lost her job because she belonged to a leather club. One Texas woman was sexually harassed by her supervisor when he found her website on the internet. She was initially terminated from her job when she complained about the harassment. NCSF worked with her and her husband to draft a formal grievance and helped her find a sympathetic attorney. She was rehired.
A number of discrimination complaints continue to be made regarding Paypal and E-bay regarding their policies for dealing with adult oriented vendors. Paypal and E-bay are deleting accounts that sell adult oriented merchandise. NCSF has contacted the parent company, E- bay, regarding their discriminatory practices. These companies continue their "no-adult content" policy in large part out of fears of prosecution for obscenity.
NCSF was contacted by individuals, attorneys and prosecutors on a variety of criminal cases, including: several cases of false rape, three different cases involving death of a participant, and two murder investigations. NCSF also made referrals to resources and the appropriate authorities in several domestic violence incidents. In three cases, NCSF was able to help the victim obtain protective orders and find appropriate counseling.
NCSF is here to help you -- the SM, swing and polyamory communities. If you have a problem with discrimination, persecution, or harassment because of your sexual expression, please call NCSF for assistance. If you are contacted by the media, please call NCSF immediately so we can assist in educating the reporter about SM, swing or polyamory.
And please support NCSF in our effort to change the political, legal, and social environment in the United States. We are a volunteer organization committed to making a difference. Join NCSF as a member or please hold a fund-raiser and donate to NCSF!