Thousands of leather-wearing, sexual freedom-celebrating, fun-loving men and women poured onto 28th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues this past Sunday for the annual Folsom Street East Festival.
While the New York City version of the famous San Francisco sexual extravaganza is smaller and certainly more tame than its West Coast namesake, it is nonetheless a unique and lively event that brings together some of the New York gay community’s most colorful members.
The irony that Sunday was also Father’s Day became a running joke among many of the participants as leather daddies galore made their way around the festival.
Folsom Street East is presented by the Gay Male S/M Activists, or GMSA, an organization interested in safe, sane, consensual S/M. The event is New York’s one and only S/M-leather-fetish block party, the largest outdoor event of its kind on the East Coast. Proceeds from this year’s suggested $5 donation went to New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti Violence Project, the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, the Leather Leadership Conference and GMSA.
Mark Nelson, a downtown promoter, said the event is one of his favorites. Events like Folsom East, he said, remind the community “that we are truly unique” and that sexual diversity is something to be celebrated.
Alex White, a New York City public school teacher, said the Folsom Street East party has always had “good energy.” He was enjoying the chance to see friends he’d lost touch with.
“You see people here that you haven’t seen all winter,” he explained.
The New York street festival, which began in 1997, made a move from its original home in the Meatpacking District to Chelsea two years ago when the leather bar Lure closed its doors. The past two years, one of the festival’s principal sponsors, The Eagle, has taken over beer truck duties and even provided an outdoor grill, serving burgers and hot dogs.
All of the beer drinking took place in a gated area in front of the bar, just down the street from Cro-Bar and the strip club Scores. The scene in front of the Eagle resembled an outdoor summer barbeque for a few hundred friends, rather than a leather party. Unlike San Francisco, street fairs in New York City no longer allow beer sales or open drinking, so that was confined to an area considered on premises at the Eagle.
Beer or no beer, revelers at the festival enjoyed a jolt of friendly fun as a warm-up for Gay Pride Week. Several performance artists made their way to the stage, some demonstrating how to safely use a whip. Vendors peddled wares that included all manner of sexual toys. Along the way, volunteers handed out condoms and safer sex guidelines. There were even a few tourists in the afternoon crowd, taking in a slice of New York’s open attitude on sexuality that might not find so much acceptance in a places like Kansas or Alabama.
At 8 p.m., as the sun was sinking low in the sky, the festival formally closed and those still on hand made their way into the Eagle for the final two hours of the bar’s Sunday beer blast. Those wanting to check out the sunset from the bar’s rooftop had to wait up to 20 minutes due to the strictures of the city fire code.
Nelson, the party promoter, said that one of most important aspects of the outdoor festival, especially coming as it does at Gay Pride, is that everything is out in the sunshine.
“It’s a beautiful day in New York City, and we’re all here out in the open having a great time,” he said.