Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, BLUF webmaster, Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3), 03 January 2015
At the start of 2012, I launched the BLUF 12x12 pledge. It's a simple idea - at BLUF, we just want people to try and make the effort to get out and support their local leather bars, at least once a month. It's important - and especially important I felt, during a recession - to make sure these venues survive, or we face the possibility of a future where there simply aren't any leather spaces left.
In the last three years, there have been quite a few changes, some good, and some bad, and I think it's time to ask you to renew your pledge for 2015.
The year starts on a sad note - this blog post is written the day after the closure of Europe's oldest leather bar, The Argos in Amsterdam. It's a fond place in my memories, and I'm sure those of many other people. Like a lot of leather bars, in recent years, it hasn't been as busy as it used to be, and ultimately declining numbers took their toll.
As ever, there will be lots of people citing reasons for that - the internet, the smoking ban, a lack of community feeling, cheap supermarket booze. You know what? It really doesn't actually matter if it was a single one of those, or a combination. It's gone. Closed. Too late for "if" and "but".
Too late for The Argos, but not for the rest.
2015 has started with the loss of a well known leather venue. Why don't we all work together, to try and make sure that it's, if not the only one, just one of a few? We've lost too much, and instead of standing by, we should all get active if we really are serious about a leather community - and I mean a real community, with community events. For if we allow the fetish scene to be solely about big ticket parties - which I know can be a lot of fun - we run the risk of there being no community to organise and support the bars that are the lifeblood, that are there every weekend when we want to go out, instead of every few months when we think there'll be lots of people in town for a wild night.
You'd be surprised what a few people can do. First, I hope that many of the people reading this blog will commit to supporting their local leather venues, at least once a month. Some people think that's a small target - and yes, perhaps it is. I'd love people to do even more, and to see the bars full all the time. But I also think you should set a target that you think you can meet, not one you're pretty sure you'll fail. So, in 2015, please try to get out in your gear at least once a month. It's not much to ask, is it?
But that's not all.
While this year starts with the closure of the Argos, there's much better news. In the last three years, there's been a growing number of grassroots movements to encourage people to get out, and help build up a leather community on the ground that many people thought was in danger of dying out. And, personally, I'm proud to say that many of these initiatives have been created by fellow BLUF members.
In the west of the UK, LeatherWest has done great work over the last three years. Founded on the back of a BLUF event in Bristol, they now organise other events, including a night called UNION, gear swap sales, and this coming October, the UK's first LeatherPride event.
In the north of England, Manchester Leather Men is hoping to build up the community in the same sort of way, as is Leathermen South in Brighton. Across the Irish Sea, GEAR Ireland celebrates its second birthday this summer - though the story of the fetish scene in Ireland is a bit longer than that, and again the result of much work by volunteers.
It's not just in the British Isles, though; groups like Leather Friends Italia and Leather Poland are made up of ordinary fetish guys who want to keep the scene alive; the Amsterdam Kink Academy runs workshops alongside leather events; in New York, Leather Draft Friday is starting to pay dividends, and the Eagle is now enforcing dresscode more strictly on some nights too.
All these efforts have been done not with huge amounts of cash, or the backing of commercial interests. They have been achieved by ordinary fetish guys getting together and deciding to make a difference, instead of a profit. And, though some of them predate 2012, most have done a huge amount of work in just the last three years.
Getting out to the bars is one thing. Organising a group, or events, is another, of course. But it's not as hard as you might think. For instance, the popular cigar nights I organise at Backstreet came about just by chatting to the bar owner, and agreeing to promote a night. The posters are made on my Mac, and distributed online, rather than spending money on printing. We share them on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. We send emails to people we know share the interests - and on the night, the bar fills up with people there for a good time.
Many other events and groups start the same way; even if you just begin by telling your friends "Let's all go to the bar in leather this weekend" you can make a difference. And the more we all do this, the more it snowballs. People who just wander into the bar find it's actually busy, with guys in gear, and think they'll come back the next weekend.
And, yes, BLUF will do what we can to help. In early 2012 we made an important change to the BLUF Calendar, making it visible to everyone instead of just BLUF members. We also list many more events than ever before - in 2014 we listed 262 events around the world, of which over 170 were events organised by other people. We shared them on our Facebook page and our events Twitter feed and put some of the posters on our Tumblr.
If you're organising a bar night, or a community event like a gear sale, get in touch, and we'll help you spread the word as much as we can. For some cities, our new BLUF local pages also allow you to sign up for email reminders of specific events, or see news and information, too.
Or if you just want to chat about ideas, feel free to ask in the comments here, or on Twitter. If I don't know the answer, there's a good chance we can find someone who will - and put you in touch with other people who want to help support the community, wherever you are.
The start of the year is always a time for making resolutions and pledges, so I'd like you to join with me and pledge to make a difference to the leather scene in 2015, no matter how big or small.
Whether you just want to pledge to get out in your gear once a month, or you want to try and start a local group, or set up a new night in your nearest bar, that's fine.
The important thing is that we do something. Don't let 2015 be remembered as "the year the Argos shut."
Let's make sure it's remembered as the year we rose up, and made a difference.