GLLA Bootblack Stepdown - Sunday Oct 1, 2017

Great Lakes den posted - There were several moments this weekend at GLLA that will stand out but the moment that will be remembered for years to come is the speech that Elisa Vegas gave as her step down speech as GLLA Bootblack:

If you don't mind, I am going to skip the list of obligatory thank yous and just say that there are many dozens of you here tonight and many more who were unable to attend who have sustained and supported me with your love and generosity of spirit. Without you, so much of what I have accomplished thus far would have been impossible.

Back in April, during the Sunday of IMsL, I had my first one-to-one interaction with Sharrin, the IMsL producer and one of my owners. She said to me, "I don't know you personally yet, but everyone I talked to about you said that you are able to listen and then change." It was one of the most startling but lovely pieces of feedback about myself that I have ever recieved.  I was touched that this core of my personality is something that others have seen in me.  I love change. Change scares many people but to resist change is to die. Change brings growth, freshness and newness to who we are. Change acknowledges our many imperfections and reminds us to dedicate ourselves to the improvement first of ourselves and then of our communities.

As I have traveled around the continent and now the world on this title journey, I have been struck over and over and over again by the way leather folk create and sustain community through adaptation and change. I will be honest and say that I have also heard and seen toxic and cruel things happen in the name of leather that result in good people leaving and communities faltering and dying. I know you have seen those things too, near and far. There is so much unrest amongst us and it does us no good to dismiss it as merely a problem of social media, or a lack of tolerance or respect. Today, social media is the way we strengthen connections to one another, find fellowship, develop new ideas and growth, and sustain our communities. Social media is often the way that toxic attitudes that display a shocking lack of respect or tolerance are displayed and then replicated. And as slave garrett said last night, the actions and statements of a single individual reflect back upon our community, at a local, regional or national level and within our broader community. I am tired of legitimate disagreements over fundamental issues of human dignity being dismissed as a failure to show respect. As many of you have seen, as a social media meme, people who are used to being treated as an authority sometimes say "I will show you respect if you show me respect," but what they mean is, "Treat me as an authority and I will treat you as a human being." I have no time for this anymore. I am tired and we have things to accomplish. We are anarchists. We are sexual outlaws. I treat as authorities in this community the individuals who have repeatedly shown through not just their words but through their ACTIONS that they believe in the basic human dignity of all of us, regardless of gender, orientation, or race. I give no one authority or power over my opinions, decisions or traditions merely by virtue of their length of time in the community, particularly when those individuals use their length of time in the community to justify and protect racist and misogynist attitudes and sexual assault and rape at our events and fail to protect, through their actions, the weakest of us from predatory or hateful behavior.

I am tired of cowardice. I would urge you all to be brave and confront, over and over again, the people in this community who fail to treat all of us as human beings equally entitled to our bodily autonomy. Because of social media now, your words are forever, exactly as you said them. When you say that "all lives matter," I don't need to have a discussion with you to understand what you mean. You've said everything I need to know about whether or not you respect the freedom, safety and bodily autonomy of our brothers, sisters and siblings of color. It is cowardice to excuse this behavior. When you say that "trans people should just get surgery if they're serious about it," I don't need to have a discussion with you to understand what you mean. I know that you do not view transfolk as human beings, but instead view them as disruptions to your easy understanding of gender roles. It is cowardice for us to excuse this behavior. When you say that someone being sexually assaulted multiple times should make that person think about their choices, I don't need to have a discussion with you. I know that you view sexual assault as a moral failing of the survivor rather than as toxic behavior from the rapist. It is cowardice for us to excuse this behavior from our friends in this community. And I see it happen every single day, from people who are too scared to have a scene and confront their friends and lovers who are being hateful.

None of us have a single moment of obligation to show respect to individuals and events that failure to treat every single one of us as human beings deserving of basic human dignity and respect. Our obligation to treat one another with respect does not entitle a single person in this room, in this regional, in this country or in this world to be treated as an authority. I have watched communities eat themselves alive under the banner of community unity because too many people are too scared to admit that they have made mistakes or condoned mistakes. Too many people are too scared to confront their friends who have made mistakes. Too many people are too scared of change.

But despite all this, as I have traveled, I have seen amazing ways that community has been created and sustained. I have seen contests make concerted, repeated effort to have judging panels that are diverse along all sorts of spectrums. I have seen communities that confront rapists and other repeated violators of consent and remove them as event staff, coordinators or judges, strip them of titles, blacklist them from events and send clear and repeated messages to their communities that consent, respect for consent and creating a safe space for every single attendee is of paramount importance. I have seen communities use their traditions and practices to foster a sense of inclusive belonging for all, regardless of gender, race or orientation, rather than a sense of exclusion and dismissal. I have seen men's back-patch clubs vote to expand their definition of "male," I have seen contests expand or completely remove their gender requirements, I have seen effective and enforced policies around reporting consent violations. I have hope that we can change and growth and become better than we are today. I have hope that we can be brave. It is easier to be brave when we are all brave together. Please, help me be brave and I will help you. Thank you.

Lynn Starnes