By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
An Internet invitation to the leather community to turn out for the 19th annual Sunset Junction Fair is raising fears of a change of character in the diverse but traditionally "family-friendly" event. Addressed to "Leather/Levi/Fetish Bars, Clubs, Organizations, and Leather/Levi Community Members," the invite states that organizers are "piggybacking" their "Levi & Leather" weekend onto the August 21-22 festival in Silver Lake, which they call "our equivalent to the Folsom area in San Francisco."
Few would dispute that comparison, but we wondered if that means this year’s Sunset Junction will resemble the Folsom Fair, with its reputation for outré public behavior and nudity. Ironically, it was local leathers who first drew OffBeat’s attention to the issue. Although reluctant to go on the record ("Don’t hurt Sunset Junction," they begged), they were concerned that families will be pushed out.
Folsom’s leather convention makes no pretense of encouraging attendance by children. Popular attractions have included a bean-bag toss to win a dildo, a public spanking booth, and a cage where the curious can be locked up for five minutes in their underwear. The action becomes even more adult after the event ends at 6 p.m. and the crowd shifts to bars and other venues. Sunset Junction, on the other hand, has featured carnival games and rides and children’s music, and attracts families and teens from the surrounding hills and flatlands.
Durk Dehner, a member of the ad hoc coalition promoting the Sunset Junction Levi & Leather Weekend, insists that the fair is merely returning to its roots. (Dehner is also president of the Tom of Finland Company, a local business that will host an off-site dance.)
"Sunset Junction emerged out of the local gay-bashing events of the late ’70s," the affable Dehner said in a phone interview. "The community organized to bring diverse groups together to dispel hostility. But AIDS decimated the leather community’s participation. [Still,] we’re not adding a new element to the street fair."
OffBeat agrees that Silver Lake should roll out the red carpet for the fetish folks, although why anyone would want to wear leather on what is traditionally one of the hottest weekends of the year remains a mystery. But heat, beer and leather aren’t a combo that encourages people to stay dressed. When asked whether Sunset Junction would no longer be a G-rated event, Sharon Delugach of Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg’s office pointedly informed OffBeat, "There’s all sorts of definitions of family." Of course, OffBeat welcomes Heather and both her mommies, but we wonder if even they will feel welcome.
Michael McKinley, the cherubic prime mover of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, is hopeful that the addition of the Levi & Leather crowd will bring more folks out to the fair. "We lost so many people due to AIDS that I’m thrilled we’re going to see more participation from the leather community, who were originally a big part of Sunset Junction," said McKinley. Fair proceeds go to Sunset Junction Youth Program, which uses the money to plant trees, paint murals and work with local teens on other projects in the neighborhood.
"The Levi & Leather people can invite whoever they want. If it turns into Folsom, so what?" said McKinley. "It’s the same as if a group of senior citizens or Japanese tourists were having a convention in L.A. and decided to come to Silver Lake for Sunset Junction. We’re celebrating diversity, and if people respect the event, they’re welcome to come." He called fears about what hypothetical tykes might see the groundless projections of adults and accused OffBeat of sensationalizing. (In a follow-up phone interview, McKinley said, "You waltzed in here in your leopard Spandex and you seemed okay, but now you’re asking these questions that make it sound like you’ve been talking to my enemies.")
"Sunset Junction has grown every year, but it’s not Folsom Street," Delugach insisted. (McKinley informed OffBeat that Goldberg’s office immediately contacted him after speaking to this reporter.) Delugach, like the fair organizers, said the event is about "community." But whose community?—Sandra Ross