The Leather Foundation: a new generation of service
Published Thursday, 12-Mar-2009 in issue 1107
New to the San Diego Leather Pride this year is the establishment of the first nonprofit benefiting the local leather community.
The Leather Foundation, Inc., a San Diego-based charity providing services to the local leather community, announced that the federal Internal Revenue Service has just approved its application for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
“This is a major milestone in our efforts to establish The Leather Foundation,” says president Russ Mortenson. “We are also tax exempt under California tax law.”
Mortenson, a longtime leather community activist, founded The Leather Foundation a few years ago to address issues he felt were not being met in the community. The foundation operates through four funds: The LIFE Fund, the All Clubs Fund, the Travel & Education Fund and the Emergency Fund.
The LIFE Fund was created to address the increasing number of new cases of HIV/AIDS and STD infection in San Diego. It purchases and arranges for distribution of condoms free of charge to patrons of participating establishments in the area. By the end of 2008, a total of 17,000 condoms were distributed through this Fund. The bars participating in the LIFE program are: Brass Rail, #1 Fifth, Flick’s, Pecs, Redwing Bar and Grill, San Diego Eagle, SRO, the Flame, The Hole, The Loft and Numbers. Additionally, Being Alive and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence distribute condoms provided by the organization.
The Emergency Fund is to provide relief help to the leather community of San Diego during times of emergency. Aid is also given to the greater San Diego County community in such emergencies.
The Education and Travel Fund is to help offset the cost of travel for individuals representing San Diego’s leather community in line with their official title-holder duties. It also assists attendance at select leadership and education conferences.
The All Club Fund was established for the smaller organizations that make up the leather/kink/BDSM communities of San Diego. The fund is to help these groups through assisting in meeting budget shortfalls and training for the production of events that honor the leather community as a whole.
The foundation’s primary effort to date has been HIV/AIDS prevention through the free distribution of condoms in 13 local bars and organizations.
“When you consider that maintenance of someone with HIV/AIDS can cost a minimum of $10,000 a year, while frequent use of condoms will be $59 a year, prevention is a good investment for the public,” Mortenson noted. “We expect that with increased funding due to our new tax-exempt status, we can expand our distribution of condoms program and start developing the programs of the other funds.”
The Gay & Lesbian Times interviewed the four producers of San Diego Leather Pride on the establishment of The Leather Foundation, its early beginnings, goals, and plans for the future in helping the San Diego Leather Community. Thanks to the combined voices of Annie Romano, Adam Latham, Jesse Duran and Michael David Bond, this exclusive interview gives insight into one of San Diego’s newest nonprofit organizations and those it serves.
Gay & Lesbian Times: Why did San Diego Leather Pride became a nonprofit organization?
San Diego Leather Pride: Some of the organizations with the community that support GLBTQ and Leather aren’t nonprofits, so we felt that to be able to move forward in helping the community we needed become a nonprofit ourselves.
GLT: What charitable organizations benefit from San Diego Leather Pride, and how are the organizations chosen?
SDLP: In the past couple of years we have worked with Being Alive, Stepping Stone, Stonewall Citizens Patrol, The Tom of Finland Foundation. We ask around for groups that support the GLBTQ community and the Leather Community that are in need, and who can benefit directly from the money that we provide. We also check that the organization will accept donations from the Leather Community, not all will.
GLT: Are most cities Leather Pride Week festivities run by nonprofit organizations?
SDLP: It varies greatly. Some are nonprofits; some are community-run and some are independently owned. Most all of the Leather Community does its very best to give back to the communities that support them. Some Contests and Festivals work hard just to break even.
GLT: What have the reactions among the leather community been to having the festivities run by a nonprofit?
SDLP: The response has been very positive! Besides allowing SDLP to work with more orgs that need support, it also makes the accounting to the community more structured and public, since federal rules and regulations have to be followed.
GLT: Are the community members afraid this will become a top-down organization, with orders coming from the top and little input from the community?
SDLP: We have not heard anything. We all have worked very hard the last couple of years to make sure that SDLP is as inclusive to the different parts of the leather, kink and pansexual community as possible. We have partnered the Ms. San Diego Leather Contest with the Mr. San Diego Leather Contest so that the community is in collaboration. We work with as many groups as possible for All Club Night. We bring in judges from local businesses, the Rodeo, the Imperial Court de San Diego and Nationally. We try to offer free events and address any concerns that are brought up. The committee that puts together the events for Leather Pride is open and we add new people to the volunteers that help out every year.
GLT: How do you balance the leather lifestyle and an adventurous sexual attitude with the business and requirements of running a nonprofit?
SDLP: A Leather Path requires open and honest communication and respect of the people you interact with – these qualities should be mandatory applications to running a small or large business.
GLT: How did you originally get involved with San Diego Leather Pride?
SDLP: Each of the four producers of San Diego Leather Pride entered into this event differently.
Michael David started nine years ago. There was a delay getting the Mr. Leather contest off the ground, so a group of community members was formed to put it together and pull it off. He was one among those great people, and today he is still incredibly involved.
Adam was the Mr. Leather 2004; a committee supported his work during his title year and he continued to assist the leather community once that commitment was completed.
Annie has been a leader both locally and nationally since 1997. As one of the producers of the Ms. San Diego Leather contest, we were blessed with her knowledge and leather heart when we were able to partner the Ms. and Mr. contests together.
Jesse was the San Diego Knight of Leather 2004 and got pulled right in to help – we haven’t let her go yet!
GLT: What do you enjoy most about this event and your involvement over the years?
SDLP: First, it is incredibly rewarding knowing that we help to give back over $75,000 to the community. We bring as much of the community and as many leather people together as possible for camaraderie and to have fun! Second, we enjoy the day after the events are over, and we can be in bed before 10 p.m.!
For more information about The Leather Foundation and its charities, visit www.theleatherfoundation.com or call 866-442-9966.
For more information about San Diego Leather Pride and how to get involved in the festivities, visit www.mrsandiegoleather.com or www.mssandiegoleather.com.