The Future of NELA
These are fraught times in which we live, but we are fortunate in many ways to be witnessing a time when the victims of sexual assault and consent violations are being heard for the first time in history. The #MeToo movement is an international phenomenon, and just yesterday women accusing a sitting president of the USA of sexual harassment were on television telling their stories, while senators began to call for an investigation. The BDSM and kink communities have always been built on consent. And because it is the bedrock on which we stand, I believe protecting and believing victims of consent violations should be every activist's priority.
Recent events have caused many to question NELA's commitment to that priority. Many of you reading this will already be aware that there was a fracturing of the NELA board in the wake of discussions regarding how to handle the alleged consent violations of a presenter who was slated to teach at the winter FFF in February. This was a fractious topic that the board and NELA's policies were not ultimately equipped to handle, resulting in the resignations of three board members, the eventual banning of the presenter (as well as an unrelated vendor), and appropriately exposing some of NELA's deficiencies.
NELA's mission statement is the following:
The New England Leather Alliance (NELA) is an organization dedicated to making a safe place in the world for all leather/fetish/bdsm people through education, advocacy, communication, and charitable giving.
I was present at the board retreat where that mission statement was first written, in 2001, after NELA had incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 (after many years operating as a chapter of the National Leather Association). NELA takes the words "safe space" seriously. In the past that has meant creating an environment at events like the FFF where people could feel safe from judgment while expressing their interest in kink, as well as being safe from sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact, and sexual assault. Actions (or inactions) on the part of the recent NELA board which have led to the erosion of that trust are what has led us where we are right now.
To restore the community trust in NELA and NELA's mission, the remaining four board members will now be stepping aside as well.
A transition team that includes myself and former NELA chairs Vivienne Kramer and Scott Erickson, with oversight and advisory help from the NCSF, will be shepherding the transition process to entirely new board members, and the revamping of NELA's by-laws and policies to enable swifter action regarding consent violation reports in the future as well as a better-functioning board as an institution.
As a major first step toward that end, I'll be chairing a "town hall" meeting on Wednesday December 20th, 6:45pm - 8:45 pm at the Nonprofit Center, 89 South St., Boston (two blocks west of South Station). The NELA board was originally booked to hold a board meeting that night, so it presents a perfect opportunity to begin the process forward. None of the recent board members who have resigned will be in attendance. Any and all members of the community--including card-carrying NELA associates, flea attendees, vendors, presenters, and volunteers--are invited to come start the rebuilding process. We will be discussing what you'd like to see from NELA in the future and begin the recruitment of new board members. (I expect we'll put some formal application process in place shortly). For now, if you have an agenda item you'd like to suggest, please email it to me at the inbox created for the transition team, NELATransitionTeam@gmail.com.
I expect we'll be holding another of these town hall meetings at the FFF itself in February. The transition team will also be overseeing the filling of positions and department heads as needed to ensure the FFF 50 goes on as expected on February 16-18 in Warwick, RI. Despite these circumstances, this is an amazing milestone that this community can be proud of.
I want to thank the members of the NELA board for their service to the community and for their acknowledgement that the previous board situation was untenable. But we owe even more thanks to the victims of consent violations for their courage to come forward. Without that, we wouldn't have this opportunity to build a stronger community that truly prioritizes consent.
I, and the co-signers on the transition team, are sorry for the pain and suffering each of you has been through, and we're humbled by this opportunity to try to truly build the "safe place" envisioned at NELA's founding.
Founder of the Fetish Fair Fleamarket and charter board member of NELA
Vivienne Kramer, former chair of NELA
Scott Erickson, former chair of NELA
Jack, Meghan, Rob, board members who had previously resigned
Iya, Kristina, Lord Percival, Nica, board members who have now resigned