SouthEast Leather Fest cancels 25th annual event

Organizers of SouthEast Leather Fest announced they are canceling this year’s event, as the coronavirus pandemic clears another occasion off LGBTQ Atlanta’s annual calendar.

The announcement came via email to event supporters earlier this month. The 25th annual festival was set to occur in September at the DoubleTree by Hilton Atlanta Perimeter Dunwoody.

“With heavy hearts, SELF is officially canceling our 2020 event,” the email said. “Since May, we have been working with the hotel as we have not felt we could celebrate together with any measure of safety due to COVID-19. Our primary concern is for the members of all of our communities.”

“Your health and welfare come first no matter what. We hold your health and your lives dear,” the email continued.

Last year’s event featured over 150 demos, parties and educational sessions, and organizers planned to supersize this year’s event to mark the milestone year.

“We expected our 2020 attendance to easily blow past the 650 people who joined us for 2019,” SELF executive producer Catherine Gross told Project Q Atlanta. “Given this and so much to celebrate for our 25th, we had added another 40 classes and dozens of fun social entertainments.”

Gross said there was an initial feeling of heartbreak after the cancelation.

“Then I realized that time isn’t only measured by years; we have been counting the number of events we have produced,” she said. “From this perspective, the next event will be our 25th anniversary. We can wait. Heartbreak dissipated to hope and enthusiasm that we have a bit more time to plan.”

SELF organizers are working with the hotel to cancel the room block and get fees refunded. They’ll rebound from the financial hit caused by this year’s cancelation, Gross assured.

“SELF is well supported by those who attend and those who sponsor. They know we are a strong organization with strong management,” she said. “Our participants understand the nature of the cancelation and are ready to join us next year. We believe we will remain solid, solvent and ready to throw a great party in the future.”

The pandemic also forced Atlanta Pride to cancel its outdoor festival and parade, scheduled for October, and go online. Out on Film committed to its September festival and hasn't announced yet the form it will take. Organizers of other large LGBTQ events in the fall, including Black Gay Pride and AIDS Walk Atlanta, said last month they are in a holding pattern.

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.

This story is made possible through a grant from Facebook Journalism Project's COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund.

Photo by Russ Bowen-Youngblood