GLLA Keynote: LGBTQ Rights in America, and the Quest for Sexual Freedom

INDIANAPOLIS — Here is the entirety of the keynote speech given by Bob Miller, founder of Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend.

Thank you, Ms. Kendra for inviting me to speak at GLLA’s 15th Anniversary.  I am very glad to be here today.  Kendra and I met 15 years ago this week at Int’l Leather Sir/boy at the now defunct Suncoast Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Anyone remember that place?

I was with my new friend Dennis McMahon, from Cleveland.  We were both titleholders who had not made the top 20 at IML that year, but we were great looking and friendly and horny … and making the circuit as if we had won IML.  We were checking in to the hotel late on Wednesday night and there was some kind of delay at the front desk.  Suddenly a door opened and in walked this larger than life personality, complete with a big beautiful blonde woman with sparkling eyes.   Her smile let us know we were already good friends.  That was the very weekend we had the idea for the first CLAW, and set the date for January 2002.  Ms. Kendra was beginning to plan the first GLLA which happened later in 2002.  Congratulations to everyone on the 15th anniversary GLLA!

Leather Leadership Award at Creating Change:

Part of the reason I am here today is because of an award I received earlier this year called the Leather Leadership Award, bestowed by the National LGBTQ Task Force, the largest and most important advocacy group for LGBTQ rights in America in our lifetimes.  The Leather Leadership Award comes with a $5000 honorarium and a trip to the Task Force’s annual conference, Creating Change, to make a 5 minute acceptance speech.  I decided to write and rehearse a “big speech” about my life as a leather man, and the difference between the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for sexual freedom.

The conference was at the Chicago Hilton and the award was part of the opening night plenary session in a huge ballroom with 2000 chairs filled with people facing a big stage with sophisticated media and light and sound.  The organizers had arranged for a contingent of 25 leather folks representing clubs and other organizations in the area to be on stage behind me when I got the award and made my speech.

Creating Change is not leather oriented or sex based at all.  There’s no play space, to say the least.  In fact, I discovered, most of the LGBTQ people at Creating Change these days are “T’s and “L’s” with very few “G’s.”  Most of the people there are young activists.

The main event that night was a panel discussion with four very impressive black feminist women, including the founder of Black Lives Matter, discussing everything from Palestine to South Chicago to ICE, the US Immigration Control and Enforcement.  They would occasionally enrage some in the audience, and there was a lot of cheering and booing and shouting out.  The panel lasted about an hour and as they left the stage, we were being announced.  The vibe in the room was dramatically different from how I had been imagining it would be.  I have been looking forward to telling this story to a group of leather folks ever since.

At the beginning of my remarks there was still a lot of chatter in the back of the room from people not paying attention.  I had only one speech rehearsed, so I began.  I was talking about the significance of the Leather Leadership Award at Creating Change, explaining there was a time not very long ago when the Task Force was embarrassed by the leather community. Many asserted that we were impeding progress, and wished we would dress normally at Gay Pride events.

The room was quieter again, just in time for the first big dramatic line in my speech, which was: “Back then, I argued and won gay rights impact litigation by day as a practicing attorney, but snuck my boots and leather pants out of the house at night so I could change in my car, (DRAMATIC PAUSE)… out of sight, (DRAMATIC PAUSE) twice a night, (DRAMATIC PAUSE)…night after night.

I was channeling my inner Guy Baldwin with all those dramatic pauses, and it felt like everyone was paying close attention now.  I proceeded to inform them that:  “For the record, I am the product of an idyllic childhood with a loving family.  I suffered no abuse.  I am by nature a twisted and perverted submissive and masochist and fetishist, thank you very much!”

People were cheering!  The leather folks behind me, who had not heard my speech until now, were dancing and high fiving in a line behind me.  The Twitter people were tweeting furiously.  The whole place wanted to know what this pervert had to say.

I went on to talk about the differences between the struggle for LGBTQ rights, and the struggle for sexual liberation, and I invited everyone to be our allies in this second struggle.  There’s more, and if anyone is interested you can watch the whole speech on the Task Force’s website, or contact me for a link.  I concluded by channeling my inner Martin Luther King Jr., saying that “until the kinkiest among us is free, we are all in the wrong kind of bondage.

A laugh, and more cheers.  The Twitter people assured me that this last line would be famous someday.  I recalled a T-shirt I wore in college with the Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”  My speech kicked ass.

Christina and G were there.  About a week later, Ms. Kendra invited me to speak to you today about both struggles – the fight for equal rights and the quest for sexual freedom.

LGBTQ Rights Today:

I realize that many of the people in this room are more heterosexual than not.  I suspect that most or all of you are “allies” of the LGBTQ rights movement.  To each of you I say “thank you” for standing beside us while together we make the world a better place for everyone.  We could not do it without you.  When I say “we” and “our” today, I wholeheartedly include the straight allies of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

It is incredible to be living through these years and decades of great progress on LGBTQ rights, following untold centuries of oppression and ignorance.  As of 2003 and the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v Texas, there is a constitutional right to engage in oral and anal sex with other adults of any gender.  Prior to that, sodomy was still illegal in 13 states, and Supreme Court precedent from the 1986 case Bowers v Hardwick said that was perfectly OK.

Even more important, as of June 26, 2015, we now have a Constitutional right to marry someone of the same gender anywhere in this country.  Just two decades earlier the Defense of Marriage Act was enacted by Congress by a huge margin.  These two decisions represent a literal world of change and progress, and we have good reason to celebrate them.

Perhaps less obvious are the many ways our struggle for equal rights is incomplete, and the tenuous nature of our newly gained rights.

Back when I was a young lawyer and activist, most of us assumed that Non-Discrimination laws would come first, before the right to marry.  As it turned out, they didn’t, and Republicans in Congress and in State legislatures continue to block progress on laws that would guarantee LGBTQ people equal treatment in employment, housing and public accommodations.  In more than 30 states, including Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, it is perfectly legal to fire someone – or deny them housing – because they are gay.

There are federal non-discrimination laws dating back to the 14th amendment — which passed 150 years ago — that protect us from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion and — more recently — on gender and disability.  A bill to add sexual orientation to that list of protected classes was first introduced in Congress in 1976 — 40 years ago.  It has been introduced in every term since, but to my memory, it has never made it to the floor for a vote, let alone a close vote.  “The Equality Act” – as it is now called — is long overdue.  I encourage all of you to know about it, and ask your elected officials about it.  There is good reason to believe that the Equality Act could become law under the President Hillary Clinton, perhaps soon enough for us all to be toasting its passage at GLLA 16 next year.

There are lots of other laws that need to be changed, too many to go into today.  There’s a lot of activity in the area of gender identity rights.  President Obama has been a real leader for us in spite of the poisonous stance taken by Congressional Republicans.  In North Carolina they passed HB 2, not because transgender bathroom choices were a problem, but in order to rally up some hatred.  Lawsuits are filed around the country for the same reasons, and our corporate media plays along.  They hide behind the guise of impartial reporting as they help poison the public atmosphere.  They enable the haters to keep hating, and discourage LGBTQ families from exerting their rights and living full lives.  Well funded right wing organizations are filing lawsuits all across the country, trying to eviscerate our civil rights laws claiming they encroach on their religious freedom.  While we are now winning most of those cases, the effect of the lawsuits is still harmful, and there are still numerous bad decisions made.  To point out just one, last month a Seventh Circuit Ct of Appeals (Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) rejected an asylum petition from a Jamaican bi-sexual man who had been bashed and beaten and threatened, and who eventually married a woman for protection, stating that he couldn’t be bi-sexual since he married a woman.

There are 850,000 people on sex offender lists in the US, many for no good reason, like having sex in the park, or committing sodomy before the laws changed.  Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that actual sexual predators are OK.  But most of the 850,000 people on that list are not sexual predators.  They just didn’t have enough money for a good lawyer and they signed an unfair plea deal to stay out of jail.

Even more important than changing the law is the struggle to change the world itself.  Prejudice and violence against LGBTQ people is very widespread in our country and around the world.  We all have the power to change the world, day in and day out.  Most of the people in this room are already doing it by the way we live our lives.  We let our beliefs about diversity and mutual respect be known.

There are many terrific stories.  In North Carolina, their anti-trans law is costing them huge amounts of money as businesses and sports leagues and conferences pull their investments out of that State.

People are coming together to stand up for their LGBTQ neighbors.  One of my favorite stories this year is about a lesbian couple in New Jersey who had their house severely vandalized after they hung a rainbow flag with a peace sign in the middle of it.  They were terrified, and trying to figure out a way to move to another community when a group of their neighbors got together and organized and within a week had the exact same flag hanging in front of virtually every house in their town.  No more vandalism has occurred.  The women have never felt so at home.

Besides all this lingering hatred and bias, LGBTQ people are also on average still poorer and have lower incomes than straight people.  We still have less access to quality health care.   Around the world, the status of LGBTQ rights runs the entire gamut.  In some countries, being gay is punishable by death or long prison terms.  We have a long ways to go, even as we celebrate the amazing progress we have made.

Sexual Freedom:

The quest for the right to have kinky sex and to consent to being tortured and abused for sexual gratification is mostly separate from the LGBTQ fight for equality, but it is also critically important.

The LGBTQ Task Force gave me an award for “Leather Leadership.”  Leather –as I explained to the big room of activists in Chicago—refers to the actual sex part of my sexuality.  It is a big part of who I am, and of who and what I need in life.  Yet anti-sex laws continue to oppress us in all countries, in spite of great achievements towards equality for some, and in spite of what a remarkably good thing sex actually is.

People are arrested and imprisoned for consensual acts of sexual domination, even in enlightened countries that have gay marriage.  Good people lose jobs and other positions because they are kinky.  We lose friends and family and are even subject to blackmail threats over consensual erotic behavior that is natural and normal for us.

“Natural and normal for us.”  I repeated that phrase in Chicago so it would sink in.  Some of the younger people here might take that for granted, but when I was your age, most of us were horrified with the realization that we were kinky.

CLAW was and is inspired by the change created by International Mr. Leather weekend in Chicago, and Mid Atlantic Leather weekend in Washington DC.   That’s where I learned with certainty that people into leather are normal, happy, healthy people.  We teach each other that truth just by being together.

When CLAW is over each year, and regular guests come back to the hotels we’ve been in, the people who work at the hotels notice what a big difference we made in their lives.  Any job is better when surrounded by people who are that happy, that friendly, that entertaining and that respectful.  We hear it every year.  Even they want the leather alternative reality and spirit to last forever.  I suspect the same is true here at the Rodeway Inn.

The 2016 Elections:

I’d like to conclude my remarks with some words for anyone in this room still considering voting for Donald Trump, or not voting because you don’t like either major party candidate.  To quote Sarah Silverman, you are being ridiculous!

Donald Trump and his running mate from Indiana are virulently anti-gay.  They have promised to appoint ultra conservative justices to the Supreme Court, in the mold of the hate monger in chief, Anton Scalia.

Trump and Pence oppose same sex marriage and they support the idea that the 1st amendment gives everyone the right to discriminate regardless of any laws to the contrary.  They oppose the Equality Act, and most of the judges they have listed also want to allow sodomy to be re-criminalized.  It could happen.  The Supreme Court has ruled both ways on sodomy during my adult lifetime.

They are surrounded by anti-gay bigots and supported by the biggest and fiercest anti-gay zealots. Their newly formed Catholic Advisory Council is led by Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback.  They want us dead!  I am not exaggerating.  During the 1980’s these same people supported the complete neglect of AIDS for almost a decade.  One of the biggest and scariest health scourges in history occurred under President Ronald Reagan, who never even used the word AIDS, let alone mobilized a fight against it.  They are 100% homophobic and racist.  They think AIDS comes from God as his “justice for the gays.”

Trump and Pence support H.B. 2 in North Carolina.  In fact, Pence signed and defended a similar law here in Indiana until the pressure from large corporations became too much for him.

Trump and Pence have vowed to reverse all of President Obama’s Executive orders, including the one that extended LGBTQ civil rights to everyone who works for a private contractor of the government.  That is about 20% of all jobs in the country. They are anti choice and even anti contraception!

And the corporate media is still portraying Trump and Pence as moderates on these issues.  Think about that.  The “news” is controlled by people who don’t want us to know the truth.

When you cast your ballot for Hillary Clinton in 23 days, please vote for Democrats all the way down the ballot.  We need a progressive Congress not just to advance LGBTQ rights and sexual liberation for kinksters.  They need to go to work on all the big challenges facing our world today – health care, clean energy, inequality – the list goes on and on.

Thank you for your attention.  I am grateful for all the new friends I’ve made this weekend.  I am now available to get laid, if anyone is still interested.

Congratulations to GLLA and to our new regional titleholders.  Big thanks to all the contestants and all the volunteers.  Here’s to a great year ahead for all of us, until we meet again at GLLA 16.