In the wake of recent exposures of sadomasochistic “educational” conferences at Ramada Inns, Howard Johnson and Hilton Hotels, a national organization dedicated to protecting “alternative sexual expression” has aligned itself with national homosexual advocacy groups to launch a counter-offensive against pro-family groups that oppose such events.
In February, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, or NCSF, announced “a new initiative that provides support to sexual minority groups under attack by radical right-wing groups.” The purpose of the new program is “to counter campaigns under way across the country by organizations such as The Concerned Woman for America (CWA) and the American Family Association (AFA) that defame legitimate, law-abiding sexual minority groups. Under the program, NCSF is advising groups on how to obtain injunctions and even money damages when right-wing organizations interfere in their legal and private educational conferences and events. NCSF is also counseling groups on how to sue for defamation.”
Stated NCSF policy director Susan Wright: “These radical fringe groups have used scare tactics and false statements of facts to try to compel local businesses and authorities to close down constitutionally protected educational and informational assemblies on the grounds that what is being taught does not adhere to their view of morally desirable behavior. That is simply not acceptable in America.”
“Two things simply aren’t acceptable to most Americans, especially in the AIDS era,” countered Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.
“One is this unholy alliance of homosexual and ‘whips and chains’ activists conspiring to tear down all social and moral barriers that prevent them from mainstreaming the ‘virtues’ of rampant promiscuity, serial adultery, homosexuality, public torture displays and eventually sex with ‘consenting’ children,” Glenn said.
“Second is this new axis of evil’s sleazy and slanderous plan – and the perverse self-delusion they actually can pull it off – to convince people that mom and pop Americans who believe cheating on your spouse, wife-swapping, sexual torture and child molesting are wrong are the ones who make up a ‘radical fringe group.'”
Glenn and AFA-Michigan drew NCSF’s fire in February by alerting local police and the news media in advance about a “Bondage and Beyond” seminar scheduled Feb. 9-10 at the Southfield Ramada Inn & Convention Center in suburban Detroit.
Hotel officials canceled the event, which had been advertised on the website of its sponsoring organization, Michigan Rope, as featuring “male and female nudity, intentional infliction of pain, cutting of the skin with bleeding” plus demonstrations of vaginal “fisting” (insertion of the entire hand and arm) and “erotic body harnesses that involve the genitals, both male and female.”
“A Southfield hotel is saying no to tying, cutting and pain … after police expressed outrage and the American Family Association of Michigan threatened to protest,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
“After talking with Southfield police, we felt very comfortable with the decision we made,” Rich Poloni, general manager of the hotel, told the Southfield Eccentric. “There are certain things that are not allowed to be done when a liquor license is held, and one is exposing sexual organs. That’s apparently what the group’s intent was.”
NCSF: Protecting ‘privacy rights’ to ‘alternative sexual expression’
On its website, NCSF describes itself as “a national organization committed to protecting freedom of expression among consenting adults. Based in Washington, D.C., NCSF works through legal initiatives, lobbying, outreach and education to promote greater understanding of sexuality and human rights. Founded in 1997, NCSF mobilizes diverse grass-roots communities to help change antiquated and unfair sex laws, and to protect free speech and advance privacy rights. NCSF is dedicated to ensuring that all consenting adults can express their sexuality freely and openly, without fear.”
Included in NCSF’s definition of people who practice “alternative sexual expression” are sadomasochists, transgenders, transsexuals, intersexuals (people born with atypical sexual anatomies), swingers (wife-swappers) and polyamorists (people who engage in multiple, simultaneous sexual relationships).
NCSF coalition partners include the Boston Dungeon Society, Kentucky Underground Fetish Society, Lesbian Sex Mafia, Gay Male S/M Activists and the Cincinnati, Ohio, chapter of Masters and Slaves Together.
‘Safe, sane and consensual’
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Wright disputed pro-family groups’ claims of illegal activities and public health risks associated with sadomasochistic practices such as “cutting,” “whipping,” “branding” and genital torture. S&M groups say such activities are “safe, sane and consensual.”
“To someone who is not familiar with these terms,” said Wright, “they may sound frightening, but these practices are safe and healthy and consensual. According to the Kinsey Institute, between 5 and 10 percent of Americans will engage in sadomasochism at least occasionally throughout their lives, and so that’s why it’s so important that conferences like the [Tribal Fire] event [at the Oklahoma City Northwest Hilton] are held, because they offer necessary education to people.”
Wright said there are “over 500 educational and social groups” that practice S&M. “If there were problems, if people were actually being harmed, or if non-consensual things were happening, or if people were offended, we would know about it. Now, some of these words may make it sound that way, but it’s simply not true. It’s pleasurable sex. That’s the goal. What people are doing is trying to have a good time, and trying to have a good, healthy relationship, and so they come to these educational events to learn these things.”
“Another point that’s very important,” continued Wright, “is that these are local activities. People often think that, ‘Oh, no, there’s folks flying in from around the country infecting my town,’ but the point is that these are people who live there. They’re [your] co-workers. They’re people [you] respect, and you just don’t know that they do alternative sexual expression.”
When asked if she finds it difficult to represent an organization that advocates consensual “master-slave” relationships, Wright responded, “You’re using a word in the wrong context. This is all consensual. If somebody doesn’t like what’s happening, they say stop, and it’s stopped. If it’s not consensual, then it’s not sadomasochism. I enjoy representing this community because I believe that the information we are trying to get out there is about responsible sex, and this is something that our society just doesn’t hear.”
Despite the February press release threatening legal reprisals against pro-family groups, Wright said that NCSF currently is not engaged in any lawsuits because they need to be undertaken by “the people that were affected by it, and the problem with that is that to pursue a legal action you have to give your real name. These are volunteers; these are people who are donating their time, and they don’t have the money to pursue something like that. We would encourage people if they feel that they’ve been interfered with to actually pursue their legal rights, but that is up to them to do so.”
Concluded Wright: “These are local events. They are run by local volunteers, people that you know. They are law-abiding adults. … People [should not] let this misinformation and fear influence that. They need to get all the information and find out the truth about this. And when they hear the facts – that people aren’t getting hurt by this, that this is a private event – they should allow people to engage in these sorts of behaviors if that’s what they choose.”
NCSF’s goal: Eliminate ‘puritanical’ sex laws
NCSF seeks to eradicate “antiquated sex laws” and “prejudiced, puritanical regulations and law enforcement” that “are used regularly against people who enjoy alternative sexual expression,” according to a flier.
In a paper titled “The Politics of Sexuality: The United States Experience,” presented at the 2001 Bi-annual World Congress of Sexology in Paris, France, NCSF Executive Director Judy Guerin wrote:
“The current ‘normalization strategy’ of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement in place since the 1980s has limited further usefulness. … The public is ready for a more candid, ‘we are different and that is fine’ theme. The emphasis can now be shifted to sexual behaviors such as SM, swinging, sodomy, pornography, sex clubs and sex businesses.”
According to Guerin, “there exists today a window of opportunity to advance issues of sexuality in the U.S. through a more direct approach. The issue agenda in the sexual realm includes:
- “Eliminating statutes and government regulations that deprive sexual minorities of the right to choose their sexual partners inside or outside of marriage, raise children, and to engage in certain types of sex (e.g., sodomy);
- Including sexual minorities – not just gays and lesbians, but those who are gender variant or practice alternative forms of sexual expression such as SM or swinging – in sexual freedom advocacy;
- Extending principles of freedom of speech and association to sexual areas – pornography, sex enterprises, sexual-purpose clubs and educational and social groups;” and
- “Changing the attitudes of police and other regulatory authorities, health care professionals, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.”
NCSF’s efforts to achieve those goals, wrote Guerin, include:
- “A national law-enforcement outreach program to familiarize police, prosecutors and other regulatory officials about the differences between SM and abuse;
- A media and entertainment industry outreach program that focuses on positive depictions and treatment of various forms of alternative sexual expression such as SM or swinging;
- Changing local regulations and enforcement policies;
- Helping oppose unjust criminal prosecution of individuals and group events;” and
- Initiating proactive legal and legislative action designed to further sexual freedom issues,” including “planning a major federal lawsuit as a pre-emptive strike against the Religious Right.”
‘Educating’ law enforcement
In concert with its goal of “changing local regulations and enforcement policies,” NCSF representatives travel throughout the U.S. to hold “community strategy meetings.” Recent ports of call include Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; San Francisco, Calif.; the Charles Sumner School in Washington, D.C.; and Columbus, Ohio, where NCSF held a meeting on “S&M and the Law.”
In coming weeks, NCSF will sponsor meetings in New York City, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz., “to discuss advancing local sexual freedom issues related to consenting adults and their right to privacy.” These discussions “will focus primarily on developing legal and political strategies to counter restrictive legislation and other tactics.”
The organization also provides assistance to S&M participants who are arrested during “play parties.” Cases include an October 1999 San Diego vice squad raid known as the “San Diego 6” and the July 2000 arrests of two participants at a spanking party in Attleboro, Mass., known as “Paddleboro.”
In addition to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, NCSF is teaming up with other homosexual groups to advance its “sexual freedom” agenda. Current initiatives include hosting a seminar with Michigan’s Triangle Foundation titled “Sex Panic in Detroit!” to teach S&M devotees how to prevent losing “your job, your kids, your home” because of “Draconian laws already in existence.” NCSF is also working with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to “develop effective sound bytes and both short- and long-term strategies to combat religious political extremists and their attacks on SM events.”
A 501(c)(3) ‘charity’
In March, NCSF launched the NCSF Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation. According to a press release, the foundation “will take the lead in fund-raising for the important educational and advocacy programs started by NCSF. As a vehicle for tax-deductible contributions, the Foundation will increase NCSF’s ability to attract financial support on a nationwide basis, including contributions and grants from major foundations and corporations.”
Among NCSF’s donors are the Nashville Leather Alliance, which in March sponsored a fund-raiser “featuring drawings for BDSM lifestyle books by nationally recognized authors, several BDSM toys and other fun stuff!” according to an Internet announcement. (The online Deviants Dictionary defines BDSM as “bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism.”)
Next month, NCSF will co-sponsor the GenderPAC second national conference on gender in Washington, D.C., and will also take part in the annual Mr. International Leather contest Memorial Day weekend at the downtown Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel. Co-sponsored by Miller Beer and American Airlines, this year’s IML will include “the world’s best collection of leather/fetish vendors” and a “Black and Blue Ball” with “hard bodies and lots of flesh.”
In June, NCSF will be a charitable recipient for New York City’s 19th Annual Leather Pride Night Auction featuring bidding on “leather and latex fetish clothing, unique toys and equipment, art and Broadway theater tickets.” The auction is sponsored by “11 NYC s/m-leather-fetish organizations,” including the Eulenspiegel Society, described on its website as “the oldest and largest BDSM education and support group in the USA.”
Peter LaBarbera, a senior policy analyst with Concerned Women for America’s Culture and Family Institute, told WorldNetDaily, “They call this behavior ‘safe, sane and consensual.’ It may be consensual, but it’s sure not safe, and it’s pretty insane to most people. It’s definitely sick sex.”
“This is fully what we would expect with the slippery slope of ‘gay rights’ – something that sounds innocuous like ‘alternative sexual expression’ ends up supporting the supposed right of people to beat each other up to the point of drawing blood, as long as it’s ‘consensual.'”
Citing the writings of “SM 101” author Jay Wiseman, LaBarbera said that homosexuals are disproportionately represented in the sadomasochist movement.
“It’s interesting that NCSF, taking its cues from gay groups like GLAAD, calls pro-family groups fringe extremists even as it defends the most heinous perversions imaginable,” he said.
“If you can accept sodomy as normal, then why not other perverse behaviors? If there is no ‘normal’ and no ‘natural’ and no divine order, then anything becomes acceptable – even a guy leading his slave around by a chain like a dog, which I have personally witnessed. Who would have thought there would be groups defending (consensual) slavery in the year 2002?”
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Allyson Smith is a freelance reporter based in San Diego.