History of NELA
A Brief History of NELA, and Board Member/Associate/Elections Information
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.
NELA is a 501c3 – a nonprofit organization, with charitable giving as a primary element of its mission statement. NELA has a Board of Directors; its Board, as with most charities, is "self-perpetuating" -- it elects its own members and replacements (see this article for a brief explanation of self-perpetuating board groups and their pros and cons); here's another article that discusses the topic).
NELA was incorporated that way (as, again, most charities are) for a variety of reasons:
- It helps avoid "popularity contests" -- i.e., a highly-popular "player"/member of the community from being elected to a board position on the basis of popularity/volume of noise/mud-slinging, despite lacking any or all of the needed skills to actually serve in that position.
- Similarly, it makes it easier to recruit for specific skillsets to help advance the mission of the organization.
- Along similar lines, it allows the current Board to vet potential new Board members. Have the candidates attended several board meetings, so that the current Board has an idea of who they are? Have they volunteered extensively for NELA for a significant portion of time? Have they tirelessly worked to advance the mission, and shown a strong work ethic, a willingness to get the work done, even when the job isn't glamorous or exciting or easy, to help the organization? Do they show good judgment, decision-making, and ethics? Or are they just in it for the perks and the power, someone who talks a good game, but in the end does very little actual work for the cause? Being a NELA Board member can be a heck of a lot of work, and truth be told, very little of it is exciting or fun. The Board needs members willing to do that work for the organization, and do it consistently for their two-year term, and those aren’t the easiest people to find.
- It allows for a continuity of vision. NELA has a short-term (month-to-month), mid-range (the upcoming year) and long-range (the next five to ten years) vision, and maintaining some carry-over on the Board facilitates that.
- It may provide certain legal protections to our Associates. NELA deliberately chose to form itself with Associates, rather than Members, not just for the reasons listed above, but also because certain types of 501c membership organizations with membership lists can have those membership lists more easily subpoenaed during court proceedings. 501c groups with Associates, however, are (to the best of our legal knowledge -- there hasn't been a precedent case in Massachusetts that we’re aware of to date, so please, consult a lawyer for all legal matters) far more legally protected from having those Associate lists subpoenaed. NELA opts for the Associates model (over both voting-member and nonvoting-member models) in order to provide benefits to its Associates (free or discounted admission to the Summer and Winter Flea and NELA classes, discounted admission to certain other organizations' events, discounts with certain scene vendors, etc.) without potentially incurring as much invasion of privacy into its Associates' lives. NELA protects its Associates' personal information as closely as it can, and the deliberate choice to have Associates instead of Members is one layer of that protection.
There are disadvantages to being the self-perpetuating board model, of course; stagnation, conflict-of-interest, etc. But NELA is aware of those, and takes precautions to avoid them. NELA has a self-perpetuating Board, for a number of the reasons listed above -- just as do a host of other New England-based nonprofit organizations, large and small. NELA lets the community know about open Board positions, as the Board is always interested in sincere and willing help. Any member of the community is welcome to apply. Any member of the community interested in a mission of constructive activities intended to benefit others is welcome to apply.