Leather District Proposal Whips Through Committee

A South of Market LGBTQ and Leather Cultural District designation gets approval to move forward, which could help SoMA keep its kink on.

You don’t usually see much leather gear or bondage apparel at a Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting. But that was the scene Monday at City Hall, as dozens of leather-daddies, kinksters, and pillars of the local BDSM community spoke in favor of an LGBTQ and Leather Cultural District designation for South of Market that was approved unanimously by the committee.

Sponsored by Sups. Jane Kim and Jeff Sheehy, the Leather Cultural District intends to preserve more than 50 years of leather history in SoMa by shoring up affordable housing and protect existing leather and kink businesses. As the neighborhood becomes increasingly dominated by luxury condos and displacement, this proposal aims to reestablish SoMa as an LGBTQ and leather nightlife destination, providing mechanisms and incentives for affordable housing, and adding services that allow the leather and LGBTQ communities to remain a presence in SoMa.

“This has been a little over a decade in the making,” Sup. Kim said at the meeting, noting behind-the-scenes efforts of the SF Bay Area Leather Alliance, SoMa Pilipinas, and the Center for Sex and Culture. She said the designation would “recognize the historic contributions of the leather community in particular, as well as the LGBTQ community, to the development of the Western SoMa neighborhood.”

“This neighborhood has been made stronger and more interesting because of our leather and LGBT community,” Kim said.

The area in question is about 30 blocks of western South of Market that have been home to a long list of historically significant leather and gay bars (of which only The Stud, The Eagle, The Powerhouse, and The Lone Star remain). It’s also the site of the annual Folsom Street Fair and its l’il buddy, Up Your Alley, but this measure hopes to keep SoMa leather-clad for more than two days a year.

“I can’t afford to live here in the Bay Area anymore,” Mr. San Francisco Leather 2017 Geoff Millard told the committee. “My income is not going up, but prices here are. And that’s the story of leather right now. We are under threat of losing much of the heart and soul of the international leather community.”

It’s more than just a feel-good, symbolic resolution. The full text of this measure directly addresses the housing issue, resolving “to augment and make sustainable Leather & LGBTQ housing, commerce, community development, cultural resources, physical spaces, and health care.” 

“The purpose of a cultural district is to protect a living, breathing community. We need to do more than just paint rainbow crosswalks and slap up some plaques saying ‘Hey, we were here,’ ” says Nate Allbee, a co-owner of the Stud and co-author of this legislation.

Wicked Grounds founder Ryan Galiotto has seen the kink scene collared by neighborhood gentrification.

“When we opened up Wicked Grounds there were more leather businesses in the area, like Chaps II, Taste of Leather, and Stormy Leather,” says Galioto, who’s now president of Bay Area Kinky Business Alliance, and COO of KinkBnB. “But with development coming, there will be change — and this [measure] will be a tool for the community to be part of that change instead of displaced by it.”

“This will ensure current business have more traffic drawn to them as well as giving strength to the current community,” he adds.

We should note that this measure would be a non-binding agreement between a dozen different city departments to create a strategy whose name is the monstrous acronym “LCHHESS” (Leather and LGBTQ District Cultural History and Housing and Economic Sustainability Strategy). And this was merely a Board of Supervisors subcommittee that unanimously approved the proposal; it goes before the full Board on Tuesday, May 1.

Assuming it passes, the timetable is still long and indefinite. The measure does not provide any immediate relief, and it will take another 12 months for those many city departments to write the plan.

So you’ll probably see a lot more leather at City Hall for next Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The question is whether we’ll still see leather in SoMa, even if the measure passes.

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