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Vancouver leather and SM pioneer dies

George Whiting founded Vancouver Activists for SM in 1982

George Whiting celebrated his 92nd birthday on June 10, 2015. Credit: Courtesy of George Cameron

One of North America’s leading leather-culture activists, Vancouver’s George Whiting, passed away Nov 20, 2015. He was 92.

He died after complications resulting from a September fall in which he broke his hip.

Whiting founded Vancouver Activists for SM (VASM) in 1982. He described it as one of the world’s leading BDSM activist associations.

Whiting was awarded a Pantheon of Leather Award twice, once in 1992 and again in 1999, and was respected as an influential figure in leather history, according his author’s biography on the BDSM site, Deviance and Desire.

Whiting’s friends remember him as a caring man who nurtured his community.

“He had his dry English humour and his English wit,” longtime friend and fellow leather activist George Cameron tells Daily Xtra. “He was very outgoing.”

“A lot of people in the leather world and the SM world — he helped them come out and be more open,” Cameron says. “He was very kind and thoughtful. He helped many achieve their dreams and aspirations.”

(A young George Whiting joins the Royal Air Force during WW2.)

George Edward Saunders Whiting was born in a railway car June 10, 1923, in Wool, Dorset in England to parents Arthur and Olive.

During World War II, Whiting served in the Royal Air Force, stationed in Sri Lanka and Ceylon. He was a navigator on Halifax bombers targeting Japanese positions and shipping. He later attended England’s Bristol University.

After some time working on cargo ships and living in Australia, Whiting came to Canada and made his home in British Columbia.

He said he got the idea for VASM after finding a similar group in New York, a brotherhood of men called Gay Male S/M Activists.

In a 2002 retrospective on VASM that he wrote for Daily Xtra, Whiting says he contacted the New York group to ask for information about their ideas and policies.

(George Whiting celebrated VASM’s 20th anniversary in 2002.)

“I received a good deal of guidance from them and decided to try to set up a similar institution which would offer information and support to interested men in Vancouver,” Whiting wrote.

“I hosted lunch at my place on Labour Day in 1982 after publishing a letter in the Gay Community Centre news sheet,” he continued. “Fred Gilbertson, Michael Hurst and David Jacobs were there to help get something off the ground.”

Together they decided to launch a resource group to be known as Vancouver Activists in SM, and held their first official meeting at Gilbertson’s home in October 1982.

“Six men attended that first meeting,” Whiting recalled. “After that, we held monthly discussions and demonstrations at the homes of participants. Through word of mouth, we had about 25 men attending these events.”

Soon, the group had a constitution, its members met regularly and travelled to other cities, and the group became more visible in the community.

(Whiting stands with late Little Sister’s bookstore co-owner Jim Deva, left, and Art Floyd, right, an old friend from New York City.)

Whiting described VASM’s first anniversary weekend celebration in 1983 as “an unqualified success.”

“Tony [DeBlase] and Dean Dunlap of Seattle, between them, put on first-class demos in SM activities like bondage and electricity at the Dufferin Hotel and in members’ homes,” he wrote.

After 30 years of brotherhood and service to the leather and SM community, VASM folded in 2013. “We had our 30th anniversary,” Cameron says. “That was good.”

For Whiting, the key to conduct in BDSM relationships was always honesty.

“Honesty is paramount,” he wrote in Deviance and Desire in March 2015. “Honesty with one’s self, as well as with partners and associates.

“Without honesty there will be no trust,” he continued. “And trust is essential, especially when an encounter is leading to the play space or dungeon.”

“Leather is a lifestyle, a unique culture,” he said. “The way we live will influence the way we play, and vice versa.

“For the committed leather person, his/her considered outlook is governed by the complete acceptance of this choice. Our attitude towards people, events and life in general is necessarily formed by fundamental convictions and beliefs, as well as experience.”

Cameron says he and Whiting stayed in touch with SM activists across North America and were recently trying to add Canadian items to Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum.

A celebration of Whiting’s life will take place in January.

(Updated: A celebration of George Whiting’s life will take place on Saturday, Jan 16, 2016 from 2–6pm at the Sylvia Hotel, 1154 Gilford St, Vancouver.)