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NELA Fetish Fair Fleamarket, Realizing Their Mission

By February 22, 2013

NELA’s (New England Leather Alliance) Winter Fetish Fair Fleamarket celebrated Flea #40 March 15-17 at the Providence Omni in Rhode Island. Approximately 3,500 people attended the event along with a small army of volunteers and 84 vendors and community tables on three floors. Classes and special interest offerings went day and night with well-known presenters and personalities that included Midori, Max BLC, Laura Antoniou, David Wraith, Rigger Jay, Murphy Blue, and Roughinamarat.Michael Sol

The New England Leather Alliance was the recipient of the Large Club of the Year Award at Pantheon of Leather last year.

The Flea as it is affectionately known is an integral part in fulfilling NELA's mission, dedicated to the support, education, and political organizing of the Leather/Fetish/BDSM communities in New England. This directly extends from their leather history. Until they incorporated as a 501 (C)(3) in the mid-90s NELA was NLA: New England. The chapter was formed in 1991 following a 1990 raid of a home owned by three men. Once a week asking $5 to cover refreshments they opened their basement dungeon which came to be known as Club Thunderhead to the community. The raid changed their lives forever as they were wrongly charged with promoting prostitution. While there were no convictions the community was frustrated with the inability to significantly defend the community against persecution.

The first meetings of what was to become NELA were held at Paradise, a gay bar in Cambridge, and then moved to the Boston Ramrod, one of the oldest gay leather bars in the city where they still meet.  Despite the growth of the organization fundraising came from events such as 50/50 drawings which fell short of money needed to fulfill their mission.

To meet the need in 1993 the first Fetish Fair Fleamarket was held at a Holiday Inn. It was the vision of Cecilia Tan who remains at the helm of the event.  The first event was financed out of Tan’s pocket. Why a Fleamarket? Tan says simply, “Everybody needs toys. The first event had 14 vendors and 275-300 attendees. It was so successful the group decided to run two per year.

The Flea’s foundation ideas have developed to keep in step with NELA's mission to be a neutral ground that welcomes the many contingents of the fetish community. The Fetish Fair Fleamarket is held in nice hotels which allow people to feel secure and has allowed the Flea to be a gateway event. To make the Fetish Fair Fleamarket approachable there is no onsite play party although there is a Fetish Fashion Show and off site parties. Due to this policy 30 percent of Flea attendees are visiting their first fetish event of any kind. The money raised is spent on supporting many different groups, education, and a strong directive toward advocacy.

NELA’s commitment to advocacy was challenged almost immediately after the inaugural event. Police raided a warehouse in Attleboro, Massachusetts where approximately 50 people were engaged in SM activities. Two people were arrested during the raid. The host, Jillian Davis (then living as Benjamin Davis) was arrested for running a business without a license, assault and battery, and operating a house of prostitution; and Stefany Reed was charged with assault for allegedly spanking another woman with a “dangerous” wooden spoon. When interviewed Davis offered, “The offending spoon was from William Sonoma.”

In this crisis, NELA was able to almost immediately assist Davis, Reed and the Paddleboro Defense Fund (named after the paddle). Davis says, “The first half ($3,500) of the retainer for the attorney came from money raised at the Boston Fetish Flea,” which was the first Flea. NELA gave support financially and by participating in on the ground action in support of the Paddleboro Defense Fund.  This action included protests such as mailing civil officials wooden spoons to “surrender their weapons.”

Today NELA continues in this tradition with a tremendous community of people from all ideologies, and two very special people, Cecilia Tan and Jillian Davis, who are out and still doing what it is we do.

The Summer Fetish Fair Fleamarket #41 will be held June 29 in New Hampshire.