Two sadomasochism conferences scheduled to take place next month – one on the Atlantic Coast and another in the Deep South – have been canceled as a result of citizen outcries, risk of losing a liquor license and police warnings.
Black Rose, a Washington, D.C.-based S&M organization, was forced to scrap plans for its 7th annual conference slated to occur Nov. 14-16 at the Princess Royale Hotel in Ocean City, Md., after news of the event roused protests from business owners, religious leaders and city officials. The latter group worried the event would tarnish the city’s family-friendly tourist image, while fears were sparked the hotel might lose its liquor license.
Billed as “the world’s largest pansexual BDSM event of the year,” the Black Rose conference was to include a 24-hour dungeon, a “slave auction,” a “kinky clown” carnival, a “Free to be Bound” banquet and show, burlesque acts and more than 100 workshops on a variety of bondage, domination and sadomasochism, or BDSM, topics, according to local news reports.
On its website, the Princess Royale Hotel describes itself as “ideal for family vacations, romantic getaways and business travelers.” The hotel sold out all of its 300-plus rooms for the three-day event, with overflow guests lodging at surrounding Ocean City inns. An estimated 1,200 people were expected to attend.
This is the first year the Black Rose event was to be held in Ocean City. In previous years, the conference took place at a Ramada Inn in New Carrollton, Md.
Fears for ‘family-friendly’ image
Although Black Rose organizers wished to keep the event private, word began to spread among Ocean City residents in late September. Many were concerned the event would tarnish the town’s family-friendly image as a 2001 “All-America City” award winner.
Black Rose media director Nardo Gorgonzola told The Daily Times last month, “BR2003 is a private function and is closed to the public and the media. The nature of our activity requires us to maintain discretion. … Therefore, we routinely decline to make any public comment on matters relating to any Black Rose activities or events.”
Spokeswoman Susan Wright of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom told the newspaper Black Rose is an educational group.
“It’s going to be a lot of sitting in chairs and people lecturing on how to better your relationship,” she explained. “… We’re teaching people how to engage in alternative sexual expression safely. We teach how to communicate what you want and spice up your sex life.” She estimated the event would have generated at least $250,000 for hotels and other beach businesses.
Some citizens planned to protest the event. The Rev. John Klevence of St. Mary Catholic Church in Ocean City told The Daily Times, “I don’t think this is the best thing for Ocean City. I thought we were a family resort. Ocean City doesn’t seem to be the spot for this. Sexuality is a beautiful thing, a gift from God. But it is a gift that comes with responsibility, including respecting the man or woman you are with, not this tie-me-up rough stuff.”
Booze with touching not allowed
Hotel management and police claimed they could not prevent Black Rose from coming to Ocean City.
In a press release, Princess Royale general manager Jon Tremellen said, “The Princess Royale does not condone, support or encourage activities such as those practiced by some members of Black Rose. We do, however, support the rights and freedoms of all Americans.”
Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino told The Daily Times, “Whether I agree with the practices of this organization is irrelevant. Our responsibility is public safety and protecting everyone’s constitutional rights. Our job is to make sure all laws are followed.”
Elected officials were less guarded in their comments.
“I was quite concerned when I heard the news about the conference, because we’ve tried very hard over the years to maintain a wholesome family image,” Ocean City Councilman Vince Gisriel told WorldNetDaily. “I learned about it because citizens were calling me about it. Apparently it had been scheduled for months, but I did not learn about it until about a week or 10 days before Hurricane Isabel, and most of the elected officials I spoke to did not know about it, including the city solicitor.
“I respect the rights of individuals and organizations,” Gisriel continued, “but I could not ignore the strong outpouring of public sentiment. Public sentiment was really running against this. You cannot believe the gamut of concerns people had – from health violations to offending people to fire safety to liquor-license issues.”
Conference organizers and hotel management agreed to scuttle Black Rose early this month in response to the negative publicity and concerns that the Princess Royale would lose its liquor license. Maryland law prohibits establishments with liquor licenses from allowing fondling or sexually touching others. The law also bans flagellation (whipping), a common sadomasochist activity.
In response to the cancellation, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom asked members to write editorial letters to local news publications and suggested, “If you are not from the local area, include the fact that Ocean City relies on tourists from other locations to contribute to the economy of their town.”
‘Aggressive investigation’ of fetish event threatened
A Louisiana police chief had a different reaction when he found out that a BDSM conference might be coming to his city Nov. 20-23.
Police Chief Nick A. Congemi of Kenner, La., sent a letter Oct. 7 to local hotels warning them Bob Hannaford, chairman of the “Fetish in the Fall” conference, was seeking approval to hold the event at a Kenner hotel and urged hotel managers to decline Hannaford’s request.
Among workshops planned for “Fetish in the Fall” were “Blood Lust: The Vampire Fetish and Archetype,” where participants would learn “basic forms of bloodplay and ritual”; “Vampire Street Theater”; “How to Build Your Own BDSM Furniture”; “Victorian Discipline”; “Pony Play”; “Bootblacking”; “Interrogation Scenes”; “Intermediate Flogging”; a fetish ball; and a “Slave Auction” to benefit the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.
Congemi wrote, “Such behavior is demeaning to all involved – especially to women – and I hope that you will not allow this deviance to take place in our city. Please be aware that if you permit the event to be held at your business, you could be held equally responsible should any accidents occur. The Kenner Police Department will aggressively investigate any violations of the law or suspicious incidents.”
Congemi concluded by asking hotel managers to help “preserve Kenner’s favorable reputation as a place where everyone feels comfortable to live, work and raise families.”
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Hannaford decided to cancel the convention after learning of the letter and speaking with the chief.
“I don’t see where anyone has the right to harass us or threaten us, especially when they won’t even give you a reason,” Hannaford said. “[Congemi] has targeted us because he doesn’t believe in the sexual orientation of the attendees.”
When asked about public reaction to Congemi’s letter, Capt. Steve Caraway of the Kenner Police Department told WorldNetDaily, “We’ve received a lot of compliments from citizens about the stand we took.”
Allyson Smith is a freelance reporter based in San Diego.