Toronto
2 min

No fear

Refusing to back down despite vicious criticism from parents and rightwing politicians, organizers of a controversial SM workshop for Barrie youth say they will offer it again – possibly next spring.



“The people who attended the workshop were not only interested, but declared that they were practicing SM. I believe it’s important to provide information about safe practices around SM,” says workshop facilititator Duncan MacLachlan – a former Mr Leatherman Toronto.



The community of Barrie was in an uproar in February when parents learned of a safer SM workshop at a youth conference, sponsored by the Healthy Communities Coalition, the United Way Young Adult Initiative, and the AIDS Committee Of Simcoe County (ACAS).



“Youth themselves chose this workshop over two years ago during a needs assessment. Youth said this is what we need to hear about, so we would most definitely offer it again,” says Ligaya Byrch, executive director of ACAS.



Byrch says the workshop focused on health promotion and harm reduction. “I know that some youth connected with ACAS are engaging in SM activities.” She says youth who take part in blood sports need to know how to reduce the risks.



Sixty delegates, aged 14 to 29, attended the conference, although only six took part in the SM how-to. Other workshops tackled homelessness, stress management, suicide and abusive relationships.



Byrch says that offering a variety of options allows youth to choose what is important to them. She hopes the conference will become an annual event and says that funding applications for 2002 are in process.



Much of the controversy focused on the use of government funds to “teach” youth about SM.



Alliance Party MP Grant Hill criticized the federal Liberals for funding the conference. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation nominated both Health Canada and Human Resources Development Canada for a joint Teddy Award, for wasteful spending in the category of “Best collaboration of an R-rated film.”



Byrch says the funding accusation is a lie.



She says the conference was produced using in-kind donations (including the space at Georgian College, promotion and workshops) from participating organizations.



Health Canada, through its AIDS Community Action Program, only paid for the salary of a youth at ACAS whose job included conference organizing.



The feds did not contribute to conference costs itself. The honorarium paid to MacLachan was donated by a local gay and lesbian group – which Byrch refuses to identify, because she says it’s been receiving threats.



Other criticism was directed at MacLachlan himself, an adult gay leatherman.



MacLachlan, Mr Leatherman Toronto 1996 and the executive producer of the annual Mr Leatherman Toronto Competition, has more than 20 years experience in the scene and experience as an educator (including six years with the AIDS Committee Of Toronto’s Safer SM Project).



Byrch says that while it may be beneficial to have a facilitator closer in age to the attendees, “Usually people who are selected as Mr and Ms Leather are highly skilled at what they do, they are very good speakers and speak well on behalf of the community.”



Byrch is clear that an SM workshop will be included in a future conference. But she she wants the event promoted differently to clarify the funding sources and to reduce the focus on the workshop. “If youth are suggesting this is what they need – we should answer those needs.”