tlc: year with
a leather club

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle



The Tarheel Leather Club was founded during the last part of the Reagan-Bush years that saw a remarkable amount of political involvement by Gays and Lesbians all over the country who were heading-off attacks by conservatives on AIDS education and treatment programs, the "morality" of the "Queer" lifestyle, and even Gay art and artists.  The period left a prominent mark on the Tarheel Leather Club; shortly after the group was founded, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms ran for re-election on the heels of his attacks on the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Kevin D. -- photo (c) by Michael CoxTLC decided to help a local group, NC Senate Vote ’90, that was distributing voter information within the Gay and Lesbian community.  The club organized a "Beat Jesse" campaign, selling tee-shirts (which featured a paddle on which a whip formed the words  "Beat Jesse") and organizing fundraisers in an effort that saw involvement from Leather clubs and organizations all around the country, the first time that a club had spearheaded such a national effort. 

During the year that the documentary was produced, the members of TLC were heavily involved with the national March on Washington, organized by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered communities as a follow-up to a 1987 March.  Janet B. served as a representative of the Southeast to the March committee and both her and Kevin participated in lobbying and organizing events during the March.  Janet also participated in a one-day Leather/SM/Fetish Contingent meeting, consisting of workshops, speeches, and a vendor space, that was held during the March weekend for members of the Leather/SM/Fetish community who were attending the larger event. 

Political statements were also made by TLC members on a very personal level.  In the documentary, we see member Gil F. obtain a body piercing, commemorating his first-time participation in a Gay political event and as an affirmation of his commitment to the club and the Leather/SM community.  Stuart, who performed the piercing, told me that "piercing is a ritual, it’s a rite of passage … or at least should be".  Gil noted that getting the piercing was a "very emotional commitment" on his part and  called the March on Washington "almost like a graduation exercise … a significant statement that there are many people in our minority, that it's a very diverse minority, that there are all kinds of ways of being a gay person in America at the end of the twentieth century".