Leather: Embracing change and honoring history - Team Friendly's re-brand, 15 Association's 40th

  • by Race Bannon
  • Wednesday February 26, 2020
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Amp Somers, Mr Friendly SF 2019; Lady Byrd, Team Friendly SF Ambassador 2020; Stephan Ferris, Mr Friendly 2018, and Steve Nuñez-Jirgl, Mr Friendly 2015. Photo: Race Bannon
Amp Somers, Mr Friendly SF 2019; Lady Byrd, Team Friendly SF Ambassador 2020; Stephan Ferris, Mr Friendly 2018, and Steve Nuñez-Jirgl, Mr Friendly 2015. Photo: Race Bannon

If there is anything in life that's unavoidable, it's change. One moment you're traveling along a well-worn path, only to find out the path now has more branch paths, and it turns out those new paths branch out yet again.

Or, a path might become a dead end because what was best for that path before isn't best for it now. So, you take another path.

Life is unique each moment and as time passes we adapt and recalibrate our lives

and environments. New paths. Change. One must keep up with the times or be left in the dust wondering what happened.

Mr. Friendly is a well-known national campaign with deep roots in the leather and kink communities founded by Dave Watt to help fight the stigma of HIV. Recently, the folks in Mr. Friendly reacted to what they saw as a need for a new approach. They rebranded their campaign and announced opportunities for their official representatives to be of any gender or orientation.

Dave Watt, the founder of the national Mr Friendly campaign that has been renamed Team Friendly.  

Watt said this about the change.

"Our Friendly campaign recognizes the importance of reaching everyone, as HIV affects all persons. One aspect of our mission is to ensure that this program speaks, without limitations, to our society's expanding understanding of gender. It is for this reason that we have decided to drop the 'Mr' from our campaign."

"We are thrilled to announce that we are rebranding to 'Team Friendly' as we have found that the term Team Friendly best expresses our mission to fight stigma of HIV, one Friendly conversation at a time. We listen. We learn. We change."

"To combat stigma, we are constantly evaluating and evolving our campaign to be more inclusive. Goodbye 'Mr;' hello 'Team!'"

Last Sunday at the SF Eagle the San Francisco chapter of Team Friendly announced their new 2020 representative. Lady Byrd was designated the new Team Friendly SF Ambassador and she becomes the first woman to hold such a position.

I asked Lady Byrd how she felt about becoming the first Team Friendly SF appointee.

"Team Friendly is about combating stigma in a kind and compassionate way. I find that mission beautiful because, to me, stigma is a barrier that keeps us from truly connecting with others. I hope to inspire people to move away from a place of stigma and toward a more loving, friendly way of being."

I know that such changes can be both welcome and controversial within the kink communities, but in this case since HIV has an impact on people of all genders and orientations, the change seems like simply acknowledging the need to adapt to reality.

Good luck Lady Byrd. May your year be a good one.

Eric See, Chairman of The 15 Association (at podium), surrounded by most of the fraternal members of the club. Photo: Rich Stadtmiller  

The 15 Association Turns 40
In February 1980, six leathermen got together and formed a new club in San Francisco for gay men into BDSM. That club ended up being called The 15 Association, and they just celebrated their 40th anniversary with a big celebration weekend of social gatherings, play parties and a formal dinner.

The 15 Association is the longest-standing BDSM club for men on the West Coast. It was the second such club formed in the country with Chicago Hellfire Club being the first.

The club's purpose is to be a social fraternal organization for men into BDSM and leather. While primarily a play club, they have always participated in the local leather community supporting education, safer BDSM, fundraising for worthy community charities, and support of other leather and BDSM clubs.

Some of the guys enjoying The 15 Association's 40th Anniversary Dinner (left to right): Yito Guillen, Bob Brown, Norm Lynde and Warzie Lang. Photo: Rich Stadtmiller  

I attended the celebration weekend's opening cigar social at the SF Eagle and their annual anniversary dinner held at a local restaurant. The camaraderie and pride present at both events were palpable. Yes, I have a bias since I'm a member of this wonderful organization, but I honestly feel they represent what's best about the men's BDSM scene.

I asked Eric See, Chairman of The 15 Association, to reflect on his club's long history.

"I am so amazed at the strength of our club at 40. While so many leather clubs are struggling, the 15 association has figured out a good formula for success: focus on fun, play, and sex. Keep fundraising to only what's necessary. Build a sense of brotherhood and keep strife and drama to a minimum. We had over 160 members and guests from around the world attend a weekend of activities. Everyone left with smiles on their faces."

Congratulations to The 15 Association on 40 years of being an integral part of San Francisco men's leather culture. In an era when many such clubs are challenged to attract members this club's strength is a sure sign that our local kink scene is still alive and vibrant.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. www.bannon.com

For Leather events and Race's previous columns, go to https://www.ebar.com/bartab/leather-kink