Editor’s Note: Ivan Nunez of Minneapolis, International LeatherSir 2016, is the next writer in our Archiving the Future series. This was originally posted on his Facebook page and is reprinted here with permission.
If you are involved in the leather community, you may know of the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M) and that it recently appointed a new Executive Director. The selection has stirred criticism less because of who was appointed and more because who was not: a leather woman of color that has been actively involved with the museum.
I know a few members of the board. They are women and men of leather whose leadership I respect. I don’t know the criteria that lead the choice for Executive Director. It is done, and I trust them. I am commenting, however, on the discussions that have emerged following their choice.
For many leather folk, the LA&M has been the place to find a connection with one another by contemplating artifacts to understand the context and history of who we are and how we negotiate our lives in a society that rather we would not exist. For those of us that are marginalized, representation, voice, and connections are vital. The lives of leather and kink folks are distorted by society and more pervasively so in the case of leather people of color.
As rebels, we should expect our institutions to be in-tune with the ongoing social and political struggles of the communities they represent and serve. In the case of the LA&M, being in-tune begins with healthy and constructive questions about how the collection is built and exhibitions and programs planned. We should challenge which leather and kink cultural identities the LA&M reinforces and demand it takes a broader look at the role people of color and other groups play in shaping leather culture and its history. By appointing a woman of color to lead, the LA&M could have signaled its commitment to an expanded point of view. This was not the case. Not surprisingly, we are disappointed.
Clearly, having a woman of color at the helm would not have guaranteed a more inclusive and critical organization, but it would have at least hinted at the museum’s intentionality to look at leather and kink history more broadly and through the lens of those least represented. This may very well be a priority item for the upcoming Executive Director. He deserves the opportunity and our help to make it so.
For those that criticize the critics, that think our discontent is rooted in some “anti-cisgender, white-male hysteria” and our support is for “anyone but the white guy,” you need to understand the emotions the decision stirred. We, leather people of color, have chronically been kept in the periphery of the community. From our perspective, at its best, this decision asks us to trust a non-color person to lead the LA&M into a more diverse and balanced future that includes telling our history. At its worst, it signals that for the museum the history of leather people of color is not a priority.
In my mind, the most significant outcome from the decision and discussion that followed is that with additional attention on the LA&M, we have a great opportunity for a dialogue between the many communities that identify as leather and kink and the Museum regarding criteria for research, exhibits, and programs.