It was the end of May in 1986 and International Mr. Leather contestant Steve Maidhof was flying home to Seattle from Chicago. He had not won a title, or even placed as a runner up. But the experience had been exhilarating and energizing. He wanted to DO something and he had an idea. When he got home he gathered four of his leather friends and proposed an outlandish idea. At the next meeting the five men were joined by three leather dykes. This naive core of eight enthusiastic leather people decided to organize history's first full fledged leather/SM/fetish conference, and they intended to pull it off in less than four months.
Not only did they do it, but they did it outstandingly well. Living In Leather I, billed as a National Conference for Lesbians and Gays of the Leather Lifestyle, was an unbelievable experience to all 99 of us who attended. Sessions were held at the Seattle Center, under the shadow of the Space Needle, and included 16 varied program sessions, a few of which were limited to "female participation only", as well as an exhibit of art and photography and a vendors gallery. There was a rousing keynote address by Pat Califia.
Naturally many more than the core 8 worked on the event, and over the early years many leather men and women moved in and out of various levels of activity in The National Leather Association. LIL II, riding on the huge success of LIL I, was held at a Seattle hotel. It was very popular and hugely successful from the perspective of the 196 persons attending, and the number of program sessions increased to 23, five of which were repeated for the convenience of those frustrated by concurrent sessions. However, though a "cultural" success this conference was a financial disaster that nearly bankrupted the new organization. But they did not fold their cards. They vowed to make it work, and they did.
In conjunction with the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington Barry Douglas, representing GMSMA, with the assistance of many others, organized a National Leather Conference to be held the Saturday before the March. NLA was invited to organize the workshop sessions for this conference held in the Department of the Treasury's large conference hall. The next day thousands of leather men and women marched behind the banner reading "Safe-Sane-Consensual" This was the first time that those three words, which have become a mantra for our community, were used in the way we now know them. The March, and the Leather Conference, were huge successes and NLA was proud to have been a part of them.
Back in Seattle, early in 1988 Steve Maidhof, who had recently been reelected to a second term as President of NLA decided that for health, and other, reasons it was prudent for him to resign his office. Vik Stump was elected to replace him as President.
One of the sessions at the National Leather Conference in DC had been a meeting of people in leather/sm/fetish organizations to discuss the formation of a nationwide umbrella organization. It was apparent that the idea needed further investigation and another conference to focus on this topic was scheduled for February 1988 in Dallas. The Dallas Conference was well attended, but it became very divisive when two factions debated vehemently about whether or not individuals should be allowed to be direct members of the new umbrella organization. Nearly two thirds of the two days available were spent in heated debate on this one point. Finally a compromise was reached giving an organization in which two thirds of the control would go to member organizations and one third to member individuals. We also managed to prepare a draft Statement of Purpose for the new organization that was unanimously approved. Finally an Interim Steering Committee was elected and charged with developing the organization, which was provisionally called Safe, Sane, Consensual Adults-- SSCA. Stacy Dennon and John Ferrari were selected as Co-chairs of this committee.
1988 was busy for NLA. With the birth of the second chapter, NLA:BC in Vancouver, and a great increase in membership from outside the Seattle area it became apparent that the organization had to truly function "Nationally". To this end they created the National Advisory Council with membership including representatives from all chapters and affiliates as well as at- large members. The council was assigned the task of converting the governing structure of the organization to be national in scope.
As plans for LIL III developed it also became more and more obvious that the target audience had to be redefined. The organization had been started by lesbians and gay men, but heterosexual and bisexual men and women had participated since the first LIL, and their numbers, and interest, continued to grow. Thus the language of the organization was changed to be more inclusive of people of all genders and orientations. Thus LIL III was called the National Conference for Men and Women of the Leather/SM Lifestyle. LIL III was back at Seattle Center and was a rousing success in all aspects, including financially. 366 persons attended 20 program sessions, a knockout fashion show and a closing party featuring Lynn Lavner. Judy Tallwing McCarthy was the keynote speaker.
Through late 1988 and early 1989 the acrimony of the Dallas conference continued both from without, targeted at the Interim Steering Committee of the SSCA, and within the committee itself. In an attempt to be more inclusive this board expanded it's membership. Jim Richards replaced John Ferrari as male Co-chair and there were some resignations from the committee. But acrimony still was more prevalent than progress.
In early 1989 the ISC of the SSCA met with NLA's National Advisory Council to discuss common interests and objectives. The parent body of NLA was formally designated the NLA Seattle chapter, formally distinguished from NLA National and most members of the ISC of the SSCA were added to the NAC. Jim Richards and Judy Tallwing McCarthy were selected as Co-chairs of NLA National and Vik Stump continued as President of the Seattle chapter. The membership of NLA also approved a Bylaws amendment changing its Statement of Purpose to one very similar to the one that had been adopted in Dallas. Meanwhile the SSCA steering committee wrote to it's mailing list (there was not really a membership structure) proposing a merger of the SSCA into NLA National since these organizations had such similar objectives. Little objection to this was formally received. In October revised bylaws for NLA National were accepted by the National Advisory Council. These included the SSCA statement of purpose and the organization/individual proportional guidelines for the new governing National Council consistent with those set in Dallas. When these bylaws had been finalized and reviewed by an attorney they would be submitted to the Membership for ratification.
Living In Leather IV was held at the Coliseum in Portland, OR. Nan Borrows presented the keynote address and there were 24 program sessions. Again, the conference was a huge success with 416 persons attending the first LIL to be held outside Seattle.
IF YOU HAVE THE LIL IV PROGRAM BOOK WILL YOU PLEASE GET IN TOUCH WITH US SO WE CAN GET A COPY
A call for nominations for at large representatives to the new National Council went out in early 1990, and ballots for approval of the bylaws, were mailed on April 28. The July 1990 First Link announced that the bylaws had been ratified by 89.27% of the members voting. With this ratification of the bylaws incorporating a structure in keeping with the guidelines set in Dallas the SSCA merged finances and mailing lists with NLA National and ceased to exist as an independent entity.
At the time of the call for nominations there were 40 chapters and non profit affiliate members of NLA. Each of these is entitled to designate a representative to the National Council. Fifty-two persons were nominated to fill the 40 at-large seats on the council, which is obligated to meet twice a year. The ballot was due by Sept. 23 and the NC would hold it's first meeting at LIL V. The ballot also included the first nationally elected Co-chairs of NLA (Jim Richards and Judy Tallwing McCarthy had been selected by the NAC). These were Jim Richards and Shannon Thomas Kennedy.
In August 1990 it was discovered that the treasurer of NLA had diverted several thousands of dollars of the organizations funds to pay his own bills. He left shopping bags full of sloppy records on the secretary's doorstep and was not heard from again. Jan Hall served as interim treasurer and worked on these records. The total of missing funds was finally determined to be $17,922.00. Procedures for handling cash were severely tightened, including strict procedures for signatures on checks and review of bank statements by a variety of individuals.
Living in Leather V was again held in the Portland (OR) Coliseum. This year 626 persons attended 28 program sessions. Troy Perry presented the keynote address. For the first time the Mr. & Ms. NLA contest was a part of the LIL weekend. The May 1991 First Link announced the resignation of Shannon Thomas Kennedy as Co-chair of NLA (she also resigned as director of LIL VI and as a member. (no reason given)). The Executive Committee selected Judy Tallwing McCarthy to serve as female Co-chair until the next NC meeting. On May 26 Jan Lyon was elected to serve as female Co-chair of NLA until the 1992 elections. The June/July 1991 First Link contained the first published draft NLA Statement on Domestic Violence. The difference between SM and domestic violence has been an important topic for NLA since its inception. Jan Hall and other dedicated members have worked to get this statement prepared and accepted and will work in future years to get it widely distributed. There were 47 seats for at-large members on the NC but only 31 of the persons nominated agreed to have their names placed on the ballot. All 31 were declared elected and 16 seats were vacant. In a close election Chuck Higgins was selected to serve as male Co-chair for the next two years. Living in Leather VI was held in Chicago, a move onto the continent's heartland! The attendance was the highest ever, but not as high as we had been hoping (pre event publicity had been lousy!) Though the programs were excellent, and the vendor space was smaller than really needed, but constantly thronged, the Executive House lacked the large areas for socializing that had been available at both the Seattle Center and Portland Coliseum, thus much of the feeling of camaraderie shared by those attending previous LIL's was lost to those at LIL VI.
At it's October 1991 meeting the National Council, responding to complaints from members in Canada (where our second oldest chapter was located) and other nations outside the USA, voted to change it's name to International Council, and to refer to the main office of the organization as the "International Office" rather than the National Office. Bylaws changes must be approved for the first of these to become official. On November 11, 1991 Steve Maidhof, founding "Daddy" of NLA, died from complications due to AIDS.
"During its August 2, 1992, meeting the Executive Committee, It was reported that the NLA had 900 individual members, 29 chapters and Chapters in Formation, 39 Organizational Affiliates, and 33 Commercial Affiliates."
Living In Leather VII was held in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel in October 1992. Pat Bond, founder of The Eulenspiegel Society, delivered the keynote address and 46 program sessions were held. Attendance was 650, larger than ever before, though not by the margins hoped for. All in all a quite successful LIL.
Through the instigation of Chuck Higgins, current male Co-chair of NLA, the organization picketed the British Consulate in Chicago, distributing information about the "Operation Spanner" defendants. Chuck subsequently organized a major fundraising effort, under NLA auspices, to raise funds for the appeal of the Operation Spanner case to the European Court of Human Rights. The objective is to raise $80,000, half of the amount needed to present the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
None of the females nominated to replace Jan Lyon as Co-chair accepted nomination. However, the International Council elected Sally Mallard Huber to this position. In early 1993 NLA-International established a mailing address, an international office, with a paid part time office manager, in San Francisco, CA. The office proved to be too great a drain on resources and was closed in April 1995. In May 1993 an NLA planning conference was held in San Francisco. The International Council had grown too large to be practical and various forms of reorganization were discussed. From this grew a drastic rewrite of the bylaws. By these the International Council was eliminated and its authority divided between the members at the annual meeting and the Executive Committee, renamed the Executive Council. The Bylaws were approved and the new Executive Council held its first meeting at LIL VIII. The new bylaws also formalized the new name of the organization NLA-International.
Living in Leather VIII was held at the Sheraton Astrodome Hotel in Houston, TX in October 1993. Attendance was excellent as were the quality and quantity of sessions presented. Peri Jude Radecic delivered the keynote address. Albert Kraus began his two year term as male Co-chair. Earl Resch resigned as treasurer and Lenny Broberg agreed to serve as interim treasurer and to strive to get the records in shape.
Living In Leather IX was held in Toronto in October 1994. The keynote speaker was Tom Warner, a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. K.T. Chase took office as female Co-chair of NLA.
Living In Leather X was held in Portland OR in October 1995. Mark Frasier becomes male Co-chair. Tony DeBlase and Woody Bebout are keynote speakers.
Living In Leather XI was held in Portland, OR in October 1996. Jan Hall becomes female Co-chair. The International Mr. And Ms. NLA titles are terminated.
Living In Leather XII was held in Portland, OR in October 1997. Mark Frasier becomes President and Jan Hall becomes Vice President and President-elect.
Living In Leather XIII was held in Dallas, TX in October 1998.
Living In Leather XIV was held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in 1999.
Living In Leather XV was held in Seattle, WA with all events held under one roof at the Double Tree Sea-Tac Hotel in October 2000. The keynote speaker was Gayle Rubin. The conference featured over 70 workshops, nightly dungeons, over 40 vendors, and about 550 in attendance. Cultural events included featured artist, Jeff Hengst, as well as readings and book signing by a diverse collection of noted authors.
Tony DeBlase died peacefully in Portland, OR on July 21, 2000
2001- Living in Leather XVI July 5th – 8th – Chicago, IL – Canceled. Unfortunately the LIL Committee had lost key members and although we had the support of our members and willing vendors, it was decided to cancel LIL XVI and focus on LIL XVII. No pin was commissioned.
2002 Living in Leather XVII - July 4th – 7th – Dallas, TX – Radisson Hotel - This was the last LIL that was a standalone event. Over the coming years Living in Leather would be reduced to only the meeting of the NLA-International membership and board.
2003 Living in Leather XVIII - Held in Indianapolis, IN – The Chapter took space for the meeting during the GLLA event weekend since NLA-Indianapolis was at that time co-producers. Saturday meetings only – Gary Park was interim President. No pin was commissioned.
2004 Living in Leather XIX - Held in Columbus, OH was hosted by the Colubmus Chapter. There was a Friday Meet &Greet. At this point, Rafe was President and Tammy Nelson Vice President. Saturday morning there was an International officers meeting w/Chapter Officers/Reps. All others attended a “What Can We Do/Where Do We Want To Go” discussion meeting. Saturday afternoon was the Annual General Meeting and Saturday night was a Play Party hosted by the Columbus Chapter. No pin was commissioned.
2005 Living in Leather XX - Scheduled for September 16th - 18th in Oklahoma City, OK. This was to be the resurrection of our Living in Leather event. The logo designed is the Phoenix to give sign of its rebirth. There were members from all chapters that were part of the Committee. The Annual General Meeting was canceled again, as communications were not strong and deadlines were unable to be met. This pin was never commissioned.
2006 Living in Leather XX OKC – Hosted our 20th anniversary the first weekend of May. The Annual General Meeting was held in conjunction with the Chapter's
event TRIBAL FIRE. Jan Hall was interim President; Bill Reed interim Vice President. All Committees had meetings with the Officers. The Chapters gave input and clarified their desires to continue the NLA-International by the end of the Annual General Meeting. Vince Andrews announces his intentions to become President to the Membership. Vince assured the Chapters Membership that NLA-I would undergo a much needed overhaul and revitalization during his term. No pin was commissioned.
Shortly after elections the Board of NLA-International agreed to co-host the Annual General Meetings in conjunction with Chapter events. We would put Living in Leather on our material and would consider the meeting as Living in Leather but only in name. The event itself was tabled until the Association could decide how best to revitalize it. Since OKC was to host our last LIL XX, we would now join our Anniversary dates with the LIL dates explaining the double use of LIL XX for NLA-OKC for two years.
2007 Living in Leather XXI -Columbus chapter – Hosted our 21st Anniversary in Columbus, OH in conjunction with their Chapter’s 15th Anniversary celebration August 10th – 12th. The event was hosted with play spaces, workshops and vendors. Keynote was given by Lifetime Achievement winner Hardy Haberman. The Annual meeting took place on Sunday during the event. Vince Andrews was President; Bill Reed was interim Vice President. No pin was commissioned.
2008 Living in Leather XXII NLA-Dallas hosted our 22nd Anniversary in conjunction with the Beyond Vanilla event the last weekend of September. Beyond Vanilla is a mirror event to the old Living in Leathers that the NLA-International put forth in its past and were proud to support is Chapters. The Annual General Meeting
took place on Sunday during the brunch. Our keynotes were Ricci Levy of Woodhull, Rick Storer of the LA&M, and Lillith Grey founder of Fresh Leather. This was the first year of the new NLA-I Writers Awards. Vince Andrews was re-elected President; Bill Reed Vice President elected. The Logo was only for T-Shirts, no pin was commissioned.
2009 Living in Leather XXIII Houston,TX – Held in conjunction with Spring Iniquity XVIII, NLA-Houston’s first Convention rather than Club Run. The event took place in April and included play parties, vendors and workshops from presenters across North America. The event was a great success and the Annual General Meeting took place on Sunday afternoon. Keynote was given by Caro, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. The logo was only for t-shirts, no pin was commissioned.
2010 Living in Leather XXIV Oklahoma City, OK – Held in conjunction with NLA-OKC ‘s Tribal Fire IX event. The event offered excellent workshops, vendors, and play parties. The Annual Meeting was held on Sunday. Vince Andrews President; Lady Kate Redmond was elected Vice President. Keynote was given by Hardy Haberman for our Lifetime Achievement winner Jim Richards. The logo was only for t-shirts, no pin was commissioned.
2011 Living in Leather XXV Houston – Coming soon!
2012 - Living in Leather XXVI
2013 - Living in Leather XXVII was held in Oklahoma City - Held in conjunction with NLA-OKC's Tribal Fire XII.
2014 - Living in Leather XXVIII will be held in Dallas, TX - September 26th - 28th as part of NLA-Dallas' Beyond Vanilla. The AGM will be held Sunday morning.