With hopes that the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided by autumn, several major leather/BDSM/fetish events are being scheduled for November 2021. One of these is CLAW (which stands for Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend—but everyone just calls it CLAW).
CLAW, a huge leather/BDSM/fetish event that started in 2002, was originally envisioned as a leather event that was not built around some sort of leather contest. That was an unusual idea at the time, but the concept has proved to have staying power. Attendance at CLAW has increased every year, growing to over 2200 officially registered attendees at CLAW’s 2019 event.
Since it began, CLAW usually has been held in April in Cleveland, Ohio. But after not happening in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s CLAW 21 event will move from April to Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 24-28.
And, due to pandemic-related issues, CLAW 21 will be held in downtown Los Angeles. Host hotel will be the iconic Westin Bonaventure, an architectural landmark and one of the most photographed buildings in the world. The hotel offers a beautiful setting for a Thanksgiving holiday family-of-choice gathering, with plenty of space for educational seminars, a vendor market, and dining and socializing all weekend long. (Also, guest rooms for the weekend are surprisingly affordable.)
The weekend’s schedule includes a Leather Family Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday; a BLUF (Breeches and Leather Uniform) reception and dinner on Friday; an International Leather Family Dinner on Saturday; and, for a grand finale, the Kinky Kabaret on Sunday evening—a great reason to plan to stay until Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, CLAW will present a Leather Hall of Fame brunch and induction ceremony. The Leather Hall of Fame, now in its thirteenth year, normally inducts three noted leather community members or organizations every year. However, the induction ceremony at CLAW 21 will highlight three new members for 2021:
• Jack Jackson, former president of The Eulenspiegel Society (New York)
• Jack McGeorge, a founding member of Black Rose (Washington, DC)
• SM Gays (London)
and three delayed inductions from 2020:
• Pioneering piercer Jim Ward
• Pauline Reage, French novelist who wrote Story of O
• MLC Munich
One of the most important parts of CLAW’s mission statement is education, and CLAW 21 will be built around a huge slate of more than 150 skill and education workshops spread over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There will also be two “Meet the Leather Faculty” events on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Also on the schedule are a vendor mart; a curated kinky art show; over 20 in-hotel party and entertainment events, and over a dozen speed dating sessions, both covering a variety of topics and interests; and Los Angeles bar crawls on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (transportation provided).
Another important part of CLAW’s mission statement is volunteerism. It takes over 1,000 volunteers to make CLAW happen every year, and according to Bob Miller, CLAW’s executive director and president, “It’s important to us to treat our volunteers well.” Volunteers receive either free event registration or a 90% reduction in registration cost. In addition, volunteers have access to a hospitality suite with free food and beverages. These benefits make it possible for many volunteers to attend CLAW. Says Miller, “We want everyone who wants to go to CLAW to be able to go to CLAW.”
A third focus of CLAW’s mission statement is charitable fundraising. As a 501(c)(3) organization, CLAW donates all profits to community charities. Some of these organizations are national in scope (such as the Leather Archives & Museum, Leader Leadership Conference, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Woodhull Foundation, Trevor Project, and Tom of Finland Foundation), but CLAW’s list of beneficiaries also includes many organizations in the Greater Cleveland region. As of 2019, CLAW’s annual event has donated $680,530 to charity.
CLAW has also created CLAW Nation, another fundraising arm in which, according to the CLAW website, “You pick the date, location and charities. You plan the event, and run it from start to finish. CLAW helps with publicity and sponsorship items, and provides an umbrella organization including insurance coverage and 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.” Since the first CLAW Nation party in 2007, to date there have been 260 CLAW Nation parties in 72 different cities that have benefited 165 different charities by raising a total of $290,000.
In response of the coronavirus pandemic, and its inability to hold its 2020 event in person, CLAW created a series of “Virtual CLAW” events (Motto: “Stay Home. Get Together”). So far eight Virtual CLAW events have been held. Virtual CLAW 8 (VC 8) happened Feb. 12-14, 2021, and attracted visitors from 13 countries. VC 8 featured a total of ten hour-long educational segments (five on Saturday and five on Sunday) on such topics as dominance; hot wax; rope; naked (or geared) yoga; scholarly research on leather and kink; sex workers and stigma; an interview with the founders of Northbound Leather; and the world premiere of “Leatherboy,” a seven-minute film by Jack McGreal. Evening VC 8 events included evening meet & greets and a virtual gear party.
According to Miller, plans call for Virtual CLAW to continue even after the return of in- person CLAW. “Virtual CLAW wouldn’t have happened but for the pandemic—it’s our gigantic silver lining. It’s good, and it’s important, and we did it because we needed to. The leather community is a very remarkable community. We’re stronger than we realize.”
The next Virtual CLAW, VC 9, takes place April 9-11, 2021, and future Virtual CLAW events are planned as well. You can find more info on CLAW, the CLAW 21 weekend, and Virtual CLAW, at www.clawinfo.org.
One last save-the-date note: Plans are already being made for CLAW 22, April 28-May 1, 2022—in Cleveland.