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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 5, 2006

Clawing its way to the top

Leather weekend draws thousands
to benefit parties, auctions and banquets

Cleveland--Thousands of people came out for the fifth annual Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend on April 28 to 30, swarming around the Wyndham Hotel and the city�s bars, museums and sporting venues.

CLAW filled the 205-room Wyndham and 50 more rooms at the Embassy Suites, with others in nearby �overflow� hotels. The combination of local attendees and roommates in the hotel rooms, however, make it almost impossible to estimate how many people attended events over the weekend.

The Pantheon of Leather Award-winning festivities expanded considerably this year, encompassing 14 fetish parties, the largest leather vendor mart in Ohio, a juried art show, educational forums, a silent auction and community banquets.

The vendor mart, managed by Laws Leather owner David Laws, who also runs the Mr. Cleveland Leather competition, encompassed 4,400 square feet on the hotel�s third floor, while the silent auction, managed by Tori McReynolds, contained over 125 items, which ranged from framed posters and leather clothing to videos and a wig from the band Lounge Kitty�s lead singer.

�We haven�t done the final tally yet, but we did $12,000 on the auction, which is $4,000 over what we did last year, which is great,� said CLAW president Dennis McMahon. �Thanks to the volunteers from the Cleveland LGBT Center and the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and the Leather Archives and Museum.�

�Tori was amazing running the auction,� said Robert Miller, the chairman of CLAW. �They were thinking it was going to take them an hour to organize and reopen the room [once the silent auction closed], but they had the doors open within a half an hour.�

�We hope to set up an auction committee as early as next fall so people who want to be on that can be in the actual solicitation of donation phase,� Miller continued.

The juried art show, which had 63 pieces by 19 artists, was organized by Richard Randa and Mark Sprouse of Whispering Willows Coffee House, who both earned raves from Miller. He pointed out that they donated a portion of sales from the coffee house to CLAW, as well as donating the materials for the show.

�They are already on board for next year, and did all of this in three months, so I can imagine what they can do in 12 months,� Miller noted.

While organizers of events usually like having hard and fast attendance figures, McMahon pointed out that the relaxed atmosphere of the weekend actually makes that impossible.

�They come in, and they can pick, �I want to go to this party and this party,� they don�t have to go to the whole thing,� he said, noting that 175 bought the full weekend package, which included the Leather Family Dinner on Saturday and the Leather Community Brunch on Sunday.

The entire weekend was made bittersweet since it fell in the shadow of the April 20 death of Thom Dombkowski, a judge emeritus of the International Mr. Leather competition and founder of Chicago House, the first residential center for people with HIV and AIDS in the Midwest.

The 1980 International Mr. Leather was an ardent supporter of CLAW, and on his own expense flew International Ms. Leather 2002 Russ Cosgrove to Cleveland for the 2003 event from her home in Alberta, Canada. The following year, he used his considerable pull in the leather community to secure silent auction donations from all 24 former International Mr. Leather titleholders.

The spirit of Thom Dombkowski was not the only presence representing International Mr. Leather, however, as both John Pendal, International Mr. Leather 2003, and IML 2005 Michael Egdes were very visible during the weekend. Egdes gave the keynote talk at the Leather Family Dinner. Pendal, from London, England, emceed the Cleveland Rocks party and presented an educational workshop on British laws impacting the leather and BDSM communities.

Eighty current and former titleholders attended CLAW.

Egdes� speech, in addition to paying tribute to Dombkowski, also noted the political ramifications of the gathering, and the power held by the people in it.

�This is an important election year, and every ballot not cast is another nail in the coffin of our freedom,� the South Africa expatriate told the diners. �Nobody has the exclusive prerogative to define what makes a family.�

At the dinner, Miller and McMahon also gave out the awards from the juried art show, with Tribe by Axel taking Honorable Mention, Bound by Eric Fleming nabbing Best of Show and photographer Bullman X voted People�s Choice.

The weekend also saw the first Cleveland-specific exhibit by the Leather Archives and Museum, one of the beneficiaries of the event, along with the Cleveland LGBT Center, the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and the Avon Foundation Breast Care Fund.

�We�re all in this together,� McMahon said of those organizations. �Politically, anyway, we�re all in the boat together and need to stick together. The AIDS Taskforce doesn�t ask if you�re a jock or a leatherman when they give you help, neither does the Cleveland LGBT Center.�

While the organizers finish counting the money raised and paying the bills, their eyes are already turning towards next year�s festivities.

Miller said, �We�re in negotiations for next year with the Wyndham, but we�re going to look at another couple of hotels. We�ll decide in about a month.�

�I think we have the formula,� he said, noting that he would be working on a how-to book for organizing the event over the summer, which would then be made available to others wanting to put together similar affairs.

�We don�t mind if it grows, but I don�t think we�re going to be adding new events,� he posited.

Adding to what Miller estimated as an army of 300 volunteers, however, is absolutely in the cards.

�That�s definitely the plan for the future with CLAW, is just to continue to nurture our volunteer base, because that�s the only way we can do it, it�s so big,� he noted, adding that one of the priorities is making the website�s volunteer pages easier to use.

�It was really great,� he summed up. �It does seem like the reports from the attendees are universally good.�

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