Folsom Street Fair: AIDS, Activism, Fundraising, and LGTBQ Remembrance

Authors: Ingrid Olson*, University of British Columbia- Vancouver, BC
Topics: Sexuality, Gender, Human Rights
Keywords: Queer; Memorial; Activism; Folsom; LGTBQ; kink; leather
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While the 21st century has seen a “mainstreaming” (Weiss, 2006; Wilkinson, 2009) of kink, there still remain limitations of tolerance (Brown, 2006) for the leather community. In the 1940s, many American servicemen discharged for homosexuality disembarked in San Francisco. By the 1960s, San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) area was filled with gay leathermen, and in the late 1970s many leather bars operated in SoMa. In 1978 the city of San Francisco undertook a redevelopment plan for the working-class SoMa area. In response to the redevelopment, community activists held the first Folsom Street Fair in 1984. Folsom Street Fair also signalled a community response to the AIDS health crisis of the early 1980s: the Reagan Administration’s callous disregard to the pandemic led the Fair organizers to make AIDS activism and fundraising a priority. Subsequently, the focus of Folsom Street Fair shifted toward activism in the LGTBQ and leather communities. Today, Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is the largest leather and kink event of its kind, drawing over 400,000 people annually. While the demographics of attendees has broadened to include all genders and sexual orientations, the fair is still largely an LGTBQ event. Fundraising proceeds are now shared between the AIDS Emergency Fund and the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, indicative of the inclusivity and community commitment of Folsom Street Fair. This paper examines the Folsom Street Fair as an annual, historic, spatio-temporal kink event dedicated to activism, fundraising, AIDS remembrance, and celebration through the LGTBQ and leather communities.

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