Leather Life: “Your rights. Your privacy. Your freedom.”

Logo courtesy of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom
Logo courtesy of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

“Your rights. Your privacy. Your freedom.” That’s what the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) has been working for since 1997.

NCSF’s mission statement declares that the coalition is “committed to creating a political, legal and social environment in the U.S. that advances equal rights for consenting adults who engage in alternative sexual and relationship expressions.” NCSF’s successful efforts, for so many years, as advocates for members of the leather/ BDSM/fetish, swing, and polyamory communities have benefited these communities in many ways and on many fronts. It’s no wonder NCSF is a four-time winner of the Pantheon of Leather Award for Large Non-Profit Organization of the Year (1999, 2002, 2005, and 2010).

A “coalition” can be defined as “an alliance of distinct elements for combined action.”

NCSF was formed in 1997 by a small group of people led by Susan Wright, the organization’s current Executive Director and Spokesperson, under the auspices of the New York SM Activists. Five other pioneering leather/BDSM/fetish groups were founding coalition partners: National Leather Association-International; Gay Male S/M Activists (New York); The Eulenspiegel Society (New York); Black Rose (Washington, DC); and Society of Janus (San Francisco).

From that beginning, today’s NCSF has grown to become a coalition of over 140 groups, clubs and businesses, including mental health practices and law firms. Locally, the Knights of Leather and MSDB (Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds) are coalition partners of NCSF. In addition, in 2005 NCSF formed the Foundation of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, “a nonprofit charitable foundation that educates about BDSM, swinging, and polyamory to de-stigmatize sexual practices between consenting adults.”

As well as serving and educating members of its constituent communities, NCSF has been an advocate for these communities with law enforcement professionals, legislative professionals, legal professionals, medical and mental health professionals, and media professionals.

Among the first things the newly formed organization tackled was an incident reporting and response program that is still ongoing today. The incident reporting and response system assists community members, groups, and businesses who are being discriminated against because of BDSM, swing, or polyamory activities.

Another early and continuing NCSF initiative is the Media Outreach Project. NCSF monitors reporting in the media, both positive and negative, about BDSM, fetishes, polyamory, and non-monogamy—and works to debunk stereotypes. (Full disclosure: The coalition’s twice-monthly Media Update Digest e-mails have sometimes included articles from this Leather Life column.)

Logo courtesy of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

NCSF also offers media training for its constituent communities, ranging from interview tips for speaking with the media about sex and BDSM to media and public-relations crisis-management assistance. One notable media outreach was in 2012, when NCSF created a media kit for reporters researching the best-selling book, Fifty Shades of Grey, and BDSM.

As a way to understand the issues faced by their constituent communities, over the years NCSF has conducted community research and taken several community surveys. A 1997 national survey on violence and discrimination against BDSM practitioners was repeated in 2008.

NCSF’s law enforcement and educational outreach programs have provided education to law enforcement professionals, and medical and mental health professionals, about issues affecting its constituent communities. Since 1998, NCSF has presented at professional conferences, including the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality; the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists; the World Congress on Sexuality; Creating Change; and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

The educational outreach program also educates members of its constituent communities on legal issues such as how to set up groups and clubs, how to run events, and how to deal with law enforcement personnel. (The Nov. 15, 2002, edition of this column included tips from a pocket reference card prepared by NCSF on dealing with law enforcement officials.)

NCSF has provided guidance on many other issues faced by members of its constituent communities, such as job discrimination and child custody. NCSF also educates community members on the differences between consensual BDSM and non- consensual relationship violence and domestic abuse.

Over the years NCSF has actively worked with local community groups to help address issues with community events or venues being shut down. NCSF has fought attacks against BDSM conferences from right-wing, conservative, and religious fundamentalist groups by successfully lobbying state officials and hotel chains, supplemented by public education campaigns, to allow events to take place.

In 2006, NCSF’s Consent Counts project grew out of an NCSF-hosted Leather Caucus at the Creating Change conference in Kansas City. (Your humble columnist attended that caucus.) According to NCSF, the goal of Consent Counts is “to decriminalize consensual BDSM . . . that does not result in serious physical injury by ensuring that consent will be recognized as a valid defense to criminal charges brought under assault laws and other statutes.” One part of the Consent Counts project concerns dealing with legal and legislative issues; another part is providing educational resources for groups, events, clubs, and individuals on the need for, and nature of, consent.

It can be difficult for members of NCSF’s constituent communities to find mental health and medical professionals who are knowledgeable about alternative sexualities and relationship styles. To deal with this problem, in 2006 NCSF acquired the already- existing Kink Aware Professionals database and went on to expand it into the free Kink and Poly Aware Professionals database (www.kapprofessionals.org), a worldwide list of mental health, medical, legal, and other professionals who offer “sex-positive support for kink and non-monogamy.” NCSF also publishes brochures on finding a kink-aware therapist and kink-aware medical care.

Thanks to efforts begun in 2008 by NCSF, kinky sex—including cross-dressing, fetishes, and BDSM—is no longer listed as a pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In other words, according to Susan Wright, “The APA has made it clear that being kinky is not a mental disorder. That means people no longer have to fear being diagnosed as mentally ill just because they belong to a BDSM group.”

Visit the NCSF website (ncsfreedom.org) to learn more about everything NCSF does for its constituent communities—and to learn how you can support, or be a volunteer with, NCSF.

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