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May 8, 2009

Leatherfolk have a ball at the eighth CLAW gathering

Cleveland--Many events have found themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball during these rough economic times.

The Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend, however, used that ball as its logo, celebrating the eighth installment of the event.

With its host hotel fully booked months before the event and guests finding rooms in other nearby hotels, CLAW started off hot and heavy and stayed that way all weekend long.

The entire third floor of the Wyndham Hotel was occupied by the Vendor Mart, registration, and a workout room with exercise equipment and free weights, which was new this year.

Throughout the weekend, trips to local attractions introduced the Cleveland Police Museum, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Progressive Field and other local sights and events to visitors from across the United States and Canada.

The parties also spread out across the city, at venues including Cocktails Cleveland, the Shed, the Leather Stallion and the warehouse facility at Flex, which also hosted skills workshops.

Other educational programs and the BD/SM art show were held in the grand ballroom of the Wyndham, which also hosted a Saturday afternoon interview and discussion with International Mr. Leather Gary Iriza, who will step down at the end of this month, handing his title over to the winner of the Memorial Day competition in Chicago.

Iriza is the first Latino person to hold the title. He came to United States from Venezuela ten years ago. During the interview, conducted by the Gay People�s Chronicle and recorded onto DVD to be kept in the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, Iriza explained that he came to the States for HIV treatment.

In his native country at that time, treatment was readily available for women and children with HIV, or if one contracted the disease through a transfusion, but gay men were on their own.

He expressed hope, however, that things there were changing, since president Hugo Chavez has repeatedly expressed support for LGBT rights measures, including adding antidiscrimination into the country�s constitution.

After the one-on-one interview, audience members asked questions of the titleholder.

CLAW president Dennis McMahon asked Iriza what he thought could be done to stop the spread of crystal meth addiction in the LGBT community.

Iriza opined that it was difficult to step in and make someone get help unless they wanted it, so the most prudent course of action was to focus on prevention. He pointed out that, in addition to being a leatherman, he is also very fond of circuit parties, and some of his friends express the need to do drugs to have fun.

�But look at me,� Iriza said. �I�m having fun,� and he�s not on illicit drugs.

Events like the Titleholders� Cocktail Reception and the Leather Family Dinner packed people in like leather-clad sardines, although nobody seemed to mind.

Wrapping up the weekend, the Leather and Rouge Revue on Sunday night moved to the Agora, a venerable concert hall on the east side. It was the first time the event was held at a non-gay-specific location, and the staff at the Agora were thrilled with it.

The bar manager dressed in black skin-tight pants, bare-chested under a black vest, and the booker, a sprightly young woman with many gay friends, had a grin permanently spread across her face throughout the night.

In addition to being a large party, the Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend is a fundraiser, and organizers donated over $140,000 before the start of this year�s installment. With the addition of CLAW Nation parties, organized throughout the year by local men and women across the country, groups like the Cleveland LGBT Center, local AIDS charities and the Leather Archives and Museum are seeing even more money coming in from CLAW.

This year�s totals from the main CLAW events were not available by press time, but after the Leather and Rouge Revue, the organizers looked happy. Exhausted, but happy.

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