On the surface, it’s a weekend full of sexy leather men and women. Beyond that, though, SouthEast LeatherFest is full of demos, camaraderie, parties and educational elements.
Pushed back this year from its usual June date, the weekend brings together leather aficionados from around the world for a gathering full of events including Kinky Speed Dating, Primal Play, Pupstacle Course, Pony Corral, Foot Party, Weekend Scavenger Hunt and Levis, Leather & Libations.
Project Q talked to Catherine Gross, the event's executive producer, to discuss the weekend and its key events, how she sees Atlanta’s large leather community, and advice on how to maximize your time at the event.
How long has SouthEast LeatherFest been happening?
We have been in existence for 21 years. We are a domestic non-profit, all volunteer run organization.
Is this always in Atlanta?
It is always here, yes. It was started by Jack Stice in 1995. This is the only year we have not happened in June.
Why is that?
The real answer has to do with the political change in Atlanta. We had quite a run of politics over the last year for segments of society who might not be a certain persuasion. And with that, politicians got nervous, hotels got nervous and we had a ton of hotels that said they’re not sure what is going on with the climate. They were afraid of the repercussions. We moved to the outer reaches of Atlanta just for this year, so things can calm down, but we’ll be back in town in June.
What is the gender breakdown of those attending?
It’s about 60 percent men and 40 percent women. Because we are a mixed group, gender alone could not explain us. We are gay, lesbian, straight. It’s one of the reasons we have mixed parties and gender only parties. Our women’s parties – they throw down! Most people say they are mixed but we really are.
How many people are you expecting?
We expect about 350. We have people from all over the country and Belgium, Germany, Australia and Canada.
What are the key events of the weekend?
The weekend. I know that sounds odd. We provide almost 150 programming options where there is a mix. Some people don’t attend classes; they hang out by the pool. We have pool parties. We serve different populations. Some come for the dungeon; some come for the contest; some for the education; others for the parties all weekend long that have nothing to do with seriousness.
Are attendees veterans?
We have a steady stream of people who have been around for a while, but we have new people come all the time. [It’s not like they will] walk through the door and find people who are upright, uptight, not friendly who will look at them and say, “you’re not following my protocol. We are not talking to you.” That’s not even allowed. Our goal – we are friendly. The point is you get to be who you are. Our theme has always been to explore yourself. What they find – our newcomers – is that it’s not what they thought it was going to be. They feel comfortable and want to come back.
What is one very popular event?
Our [Saturday night] contest is emceed by Darryl Flick, who works for Elbow Grease in Palm Springs. People love the contest because it’s short and what sets [audiences] on fire is that they are different than any other contest. Three years ago we broke the mold. Half of the categories, our audience gets to vote along with judges, on Mr. SouthEast LeatherFest, Ms. SouthEast LeatherFest, SouthEast LeatherFest boy and SouthEast Person of Leather. There are all sorts of categories and titles in the contest.
Why is this weekend important?
It’s important to have this weekend because we are a unique group of people who need to see each other and foster our diversity, our similarity and most importantly, we are the weekend that does not accept tolerance as sufficient. The only thing that is sufficient is mutual respect, everyone, of all persuasions and gender.
What kind of special guest will be in attendance?
Patrick Smith, who is Mr. International Leather 2015. He is an incredible humanitarian. He is doing our keynote speech on Saturday. He does charity groups and is very smart. He’s the whole package.
How would you describe Atlanta’s leather community?
Divergent. There are many groups and they may use the moniker of leather, but they are not the same. They don’t choose to follow the same path. People sometimes think that with one label, it can cover an entire group behavior, model, template. It’s like saying all gay men are the same.
What are some of the demos?
Nine Things You Should Know Before You Visit a Dungeon; Introduction to Biting; Bondage in the Redroom; Shaving; How to be Monogamous in a Polyamorous Relationship; Mentor/Protegee Relationships; Puppy Training; Writing Erotica; Mummification; Fisting. There is a great mix.
How can folks get the most out the weekend?
It depends on who you are. If you are new, one of the best things you can do is volunteer. The reason being, it helps you move past any awkward moment. You have something to do and introduced to lots of people. For others, get the schedule early. Go to the parties. Turn to the person next to you and start talking and they will talk to you back.
Photo by Loren Hoffmann