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May 3, 2013

Twelfth CLAW is a fun weekend for all

Cleveland--For a dozen years, the Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend has stood tall, one of the largest leather festivals not linked to a competition in the nation. It has earned four Pantheon of Leather Awards, including Large Non-Profit of the Year in 2007 and 2012, Small Event of the Year in 2003 and, just three years later, Large Event of the Year.

This year, at CLAW 12 from April 25 to 28 at the Hilton Garden Inn, that success continued as the northeast Ohio juggernaut continued its trip through the annals of LGBT history.

By the numbers, it was, as always, a runaway success. Officially, the weekend filled two hotels, the 240-room Hilton and the 194-room Hampton Inn five blocks away, but adding in local residents and people renting rooms wherever they could, an actual estimate is almost impossible.

Chairman Robert Miller noted that, as of Friday night, there were 1,350 registrants checked in, but theorized that the total number for the weekend probably reached at least 1,500 people.

Around 40 current leather titleholders participated in the weekend, which included a vendor mart with 30 vendors and over 50 educational offerings, dozens of events, parties and field trips, and more.

“We had 650 volunteer shifts filled by about 400 different volunteers, and that doesn’t even include the leadership and coordinator-type people,” Miller said, noting that there are now at least 50 volunteers in leadership positions, with more stepping up each year.

The Leather Archives and Museum again held their Hall of Fame induction ceremony at CLAW, this year welcoming the artist Etienne, dominatrix Monique Von Cleef and entrepreneur Alan Selby into their pantheon.

Etienne, whose real name was Dom Orejudos, was a prominent cartoon artist, although his fame was eclipsed by Tom of Finland, despite the similarity of styles between the two. He was instrumental in the formation of Kris Studios, which put out early beefcake publications, as well as helping his lover Chuck Renslow start the Gold Coast in Chicago, one of the first leather bars. Etienne was also a noted dancer and choreographer. He passed away in 1994.

Selby, who died in 2004, was the founder of Mr. S. Leather in San Francisco, and spent decades as an LGBT and AIDS activist, serving on the board of the Stop AIDS Project and the AIDS Emergency Fund. The Leather Archives and Museum administers the Selby Fund in his honor.

Monique Von Cleef was a Dutch dominatrix and BD/SM model who moved to the U.S. in 1963. Two years later, her dungeon in Newark, New Jersey was raided by police. She fought the charges to the Supreme Court, which vacated her conviction in 1969.

The inductions were held at the brunch on April 28. The day before, the Leather Family Dinner packed the Hilton’s main ballroom, which is hardly news to anyone who has attended one.

“Every seat was full,” Miller noted.

A new addition was organizing committee executive member Tina Mackay’s vendor mart showcase, in which models wore items from vendors in a fashion show. Sales went up the next day. She also produced the Bound and Beautiful Art Show, another new addition, in which live models in intricate forms of bondage were the art. Miller says that show will definitely be around next year as well.

Flex, the city’s bathhouse and a major sponsor of many events, was the site for a number of parties as well as skill trainings.

“Flex is our good partner and sponsor. They built a new dungeon space that is amazing,” Miller stated. “We had three Recon ReFlex parties there. Skill trainings were held there as well.”

In addition, there are a dozen sustaining sponsors who donate annually to the event, which benefits local and national charities. Last year’s event raised over $55,000, which went to charities ranging from the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and GLSEN-Northeast Ohio to the Tom of Finland Foundation and the Leather Leadership Conference. While it is too early to estimate the donation this year, CLAW and its CLAW Nation parties throughout the year have donated over $400,000 over the last 11 years.

An almost-exhausted Miller took time while ordering lunch for the volunteers cleaning out the hotel on April 29, to ponder his favorite thing about the weekend.

“Well, for me as the organizer of it all, every year it’s always the new volunteers that step forward and end up doing way, way more than we thought and just coming into their own,” he said. “It happens every year. There’s a bunch of people there who are younger, which is great. The new leadership is arriving.”

Accompanying Etienne’s induction into the Leather Hall of Fame was an art show featuring a retrospective of his body of work, and Etienne images graced everything.

“Content-wise, I would have to say the Etienne art show and everything around it. We had pornographic tote bags that you can’t get from PBS no matter how much you donate, we had Etienne on our shirts, on our programs,” he recalled.

In the end, he was just hours away from breathing easy, at least until the next board meeting and the beginning of planning in earnest for next year.

“Everything went really well,” he concluded. “It’s intricate and complicated as hell, and it’s amazing how well everything went.”

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