NELA History

The New England Leather Alliance (NELA) was first called NLA: New England (it began as a chapter of the National Leather Association before becoming an independent organization several years later). It was formed in 1991 in Boston, Massachusetts, at a time when the local leather community was in turmoil. The police had just made a raid on a leather dungeon that was operated out of a private home known as the Thunderhead Club, or Club Thunderhead. The house was owned by three men who would open their dungeon once a week, charge a $5 admission to cover the cost of buffet food, and allow people to play with each other in the dungeon basement. Undercover police had entered the house, and although no money was exchanged for sex, because money had been paid and entrants engaged in sexual acts with each other, the owners were charged with operating a house with prostitution. (As far as is known, they were never convicted, but the charges ruined their lives.)

It was in this climate of persecution and amidst growing feelings that the many fragmented aspects of the leather community (lesbian, gay, heterosexual, etc.) could benefit from working together, that the NLA: New England chapter was founded. Meetings began on the third Saturday of each month at the Paradise, a gay bar in Cambridge, MA. Early meetings included a presentation on Safe Leather Sex by Alan Chiras (magazine columnist and presenter for the Worcester AIDS Project’s "Leatherforce 2000"), a visit from the Pink Flamingos (a local transgender activist group), and displays of erotic photography.

The Paradise became an unviable spot when they began asking for a rental fee of $50 for the meeting space (they wouldn’t let the group meet alone downstairs, so the bar had to pay a bartender to work during those hours, and then wanted the group to pay the bartender). The club moved to the Boston Ramrod, one of the oldest gay leather bars in the city, and that was the group’s home bar for many years, even though NELA’s events now take place in some of the largest and most prestigious venues in New England.

Over the years, the New England Leather Alliance has taken part in many activities and put on many programs of benefit to the local leather community. Among the guest speakers we have brought to Boston include Robert and Mary Dante (publishers of Boudoir Noir magazine, and Mary was Ms. NLA:I 1995), Jay Wiseman (author of SM 101), Lady Green (author of The Sexually Dominant Woman), Laura Goodwin (Ms. NLA ’91-’92), Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, Jay Wiseman and many other well-known writers and activists in various fields of BDSM play, bondage, politics, GLBT rights, and other areas.

NELA organized the first "leather contingent" in 1993 and 1994’s Boston Pride parades, allowing smaller groups to march in one larger contingent to save the considerable expense of registering separately and to encourage the visibility of leatherfolk in the parade, sponsored and ran the 1994 Community Leather Mart at the Boston Ramrod which raised $1000 for Monserrat AIDS Services, led the local campaign to have the Spanner men (U.K. man jailed for their consensual SM practices) added to Amnesty International’s list of prisoners of conscience, was heavily involved in the Paddleboro Defense Fund, and produces the Fetish Fair Fleamarket®, a semi-annual lifestyle event which has grown into the largest single fetish event in New England.