Folsom Street Fair (FSF) is an annual and street fair held in September, that caps "Leather Pride Week". The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as "Folsom", takes place on between 8th and 13th Streets, in San Francisco's district.
The event started in 1984 and is 's third-largest single-day, outdoor spectator event and the world's largest leather event and showcase for BDSM products and culture. It has grown as a non-profit charity, and local and national non-profits benefit with all donations at the gates going to charity groups as well as numerous fundraising schemes within the festival including games, beverage booths and even for donations to capitalize on the adult-themed exhibitionism. For or more donations visitors get discount for each drink purchased at the fair.
Although has been practiced , the modern gay leather scene in the developed beginning in 1945 when thousands of servicemen were given from after and came to the major of the United States to live in . In 1953, the film appeared starring and the more butch gays began to imitate him by wearing black leather jackets, a black leather cap, black leather boots and jeans and, if they could afford it, by also riding . In the 1950s, the magazine familiarized people with .
The first proto-leather bar in San Francisco was the Sailor Boy Tavern, which opened in 1938 near the Embarcadero YMCA and catered to boys looking for some male-to-male action.
Folsom Street has been the center of San Francisco's men's leather community since the mid-1960s. Before centering in the neighborhood, leather friendly bars were located in the (Jack's On The Waterfront at 111 Embarcadero 1952-1963, On The Levee ?-1972), and the (The Spur Club at 126 Turk - raided and closed in 1959, The Why Not at 518 Ellis - opened and closed in 1960, The Hideaway at 438 Eddy - raided and closed in 1961). The first leather bar in SOMA was The Tool Box, which opened in 1961 at 339 4th St and closed in 1971. It was made famous by the June 1964 Paul Welch article entitled "Homosexuality In America," the first time a national publication reported on gay issues. Life 's photographer was referred to The Tool Box by , leader of the San Francisco chapter of the , who had long worked to dispel the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate. The article opened with a two-page spread of the mural of life size leathermen in the bar, painted by Chuck Arnett, a patron and employee. The article described San Francisco as "The Gay Capital of America" and inspired many leathermen to move there.
The first leather bar on Folsom Street was Febe's, on the southwest corner of 11th and Folsom, which opened July 25, 1966. The Stud bar, which opened in 1966 at 1535 Folsom St., was originally a hangout; by 1969 it had become a for on the margins of the leather scene and had a by Chuck Arnett (in 1987, it moved to 399 9th St. at Harrison). In 1967 A Taste of Leather, one of the first in-bar leather stores, was established at Febe's by Nick O'Demus. As of late 2009, A Taste of Leather announced it would be going out of business after 43 years.
In 1971, the modern came into use among leather people. Many leather people went to the Embarcadero (at this YMCA, doing while wearing nothing but and a as well as were both allowed until 1975, when women could become members of the YMCA). Leather people who worked out at the Embarcadero YMCA took advantage of the opportunity to get together with when they came into town and rented rooms at the adjacent Embarcadero .Sex and torture acts done at public BDSM events, like Folsom Street Fair, have been accused of being against the law, even when the events are promoted by the local administration and police, and all acts are done with consent. Photo shows a submissive woman to whipped at Folsom Street Fair 2010. The red marks on her body are from the whipping.
By the late 1970s Folsom's Miracle Mile had featured nearly 30 different leather bars, clubs, and merchants, most within walking distance of each other. These establishments included, in the order they were established: 1968 - Off the Levee (by the same owner of On The Levee), The Ramrod. 1971 - The In Between (later renamed The No Name), The Bootcamp. 1972 - The Barracks at 72 Hallam St., off Folsom between 7th and 8th Streets (a for people into hardcore BDSM—each room was arranged like a stage set to cater to a different ). 1973 - The Red Star Saloon (connected to the Barracks) (which featured new artwork by Chuck Arnett), the (not a leather bar but a dance bar; however, many leather people who liked to dance went there), Folsom Prison, The Ambush, Big Town—a gay leather on the south side of Folsom between 6th and 7th Streets. 1975 - Hombre, The (for those into hard core ), The Emporium. 1976 - The Trading Post, The Slot (for those into hardcore ), The Hotel (later renamed The Handball Express—a place for those into hardcore fisting). 1977 - The Brig, The Balcony. 1978 - The Arena, The Roundup (later renamed The Watering Hole—a place for those into ), The Quarters, Black & Blue, Folsom Street Baths at 1015 Folsom (a BDSM gay bathhouse, later renamed The Sutro Baths in 1980—the slogan of the Sutro Baths was "A of ", which was inscribed on a banner above the orgy room, located where the main dance floor of 1015 Folsom now is. The Sutro Baths also admitted women and ). 1979 - The Stables at 1123 Folsom (for those who liked to dress as ), The Trench (for those into hardcore ), The Hothouse on the northwest corner of 5th and Harrison (another BDSM gay bathhouse), Tailor of San Francisco, Mister S Leathers. 1980 - The Plunge—a gay BDSM bathhouse with a on the northwest corner of 11th and Folsom (in 1983 the swimming pool was covered over and became the surface of the dance floor of the popular dance club The Oasis). 1981 - The Eagle at 398 12th St., as of 2010, was San Francisco's oldest leather bar, as well as its largest with its extensive outdoor patio, and it hosted many popular barbecues and to benefit charitable organizations; however, it closed in June 2011 due to a dispute over its real estate. The Eagle has subsequently reopened in 2013.
The predecessor of the Folsom Street Fair was the CMC Carnival (California Motorcycle Club Carnival), a gay leather BDSM dance (with and a ) and fair, with vendors and a back room for . It was held on the second Sunday of November every year from 1966 to the last one in 1986 at various indoor venues including most often at the Seafarer's International Union Hall (referred to as Seaman's Hall for short) at 350 Fremont Street in the Embarcadero area of SOMA. In the early 1970s, the CMC Carnival was attended by a few hundred people and by the time of the last large CMC Carnival in 1982 at what was then the Yellow Cab Building at Jones and Turk in the Tenderloin, it was attended by over 4,000 people.
The "CMC Carnival" was organized by one of the leather , the California Motorcycle Club, with the help of other gay motorcycle clubs. The members of these gay motorcycle clubs rode mostly and on periodic weekends rode their motorcycles to outings at picnic grounds in the . The first gay motorcycle club in the United States was the Satyrs, founded in Los Angeles in 1954. The first gay motorcycle club in San Francisco was the Warlocks, which was founded in 1960, followed by the California Motorcycle Club, also founded in 1960 later in the year. By the mid-1960s, San Francisco's South of Market district had become the center of the gay motorcycle club scene and was home to motorcycle clubs such as the Barbary Coasters (founded in 1966) and the Constantines and the Cheaters (both founded in 1967).
These gay motorcycle clubs also organized many benefits for at various leather bars. During the 1970s and early 1980s one could see many dozens of motorcycles belonging to people who were members of these clubs parked up and down the length of Folsom Street on the Miracle Mile. Unfortunately the membership of these motorcycle clubs was decimated by the crisis beginning in 1982.
In 1979 the newly formed San Francisco motorcycle club, , led what was then called the for the first time and has done so ever since (since 1994, the event has been called the Parade). By the mid-1980s, lesbian motorcycle enthusiasts in other cities began to form motorcycle clubs. In the 1980s and early 1990s, lesbian leatherwomen were often involved in helping to care for gay leathermen who had been stricken with AIDS.
Some leather people of the 1960s and 1970s felt that one wasn’t really a leather person but just a unless one owned an actual , preferably a Harley Davidson.
The San Francisco Leather History Alley consists of four works of art along Ringold Alley honoring leather culture; it opened in 2017. The four works of art are: A black granite stone etched with a narrative by , an image of the "Leather David" statue by Mike Caffee, and a reproduction of ’s mural in a former leather bar, engraved standing stones that honor community leather institutions including the Folsom Street Fair, pavement markings through which the stones emerge, and metal bootprints along the curb which honor 28 people who were an important part of the leather communities of San Francisco.
The community had been active in resisting the city's ambitious program for the area throughout the 1970s. City officials had wanted to "revitalize" the historically blue collar, warehouse, industrial district by continuing successful high rise development already underway on .
But as the AIDS epidemic unfolded in the 1980s, the community's relative autonomy from City Hall was dramatically weakened. The crisis became an opportunity for the city (in the name of ) to close and regulate bars, which they did beginning in 1984.
As these establishments for the leather community were rapidly closing, a coalition of housing activists and community organizers decided to start a street fair. The fair would enhance the visibility of the community, provide a means for much-needed fundraising, and create opportunities for members of the leather community to connect to services and vital information (e.g., regarding ) that bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been situated to distribute.
Thanks to the success of the first Folsom Street Fair, the organizers created the on Ringold Street in 1985. This fair moved to Dore Street ("Dore Alley") between Howard and Folsom in 1987.
As one of the few occasions when activities are encouraged and performed in public, it attracts a considerable number of sightseers and those who enjoy the attention of onlookers as well as hundreds of photographers and videographers. Although the costumes and activities are frequently transgressive, many attendees find the event "eye-opening" and positive. On the other hand, the event has at times drawn public and internal criticism for its bawdy atmosphere and broad tolerance of lewd behavior, and it is a regular target for pro- organizations such as .
The organizers have reportedly earned a great amount of trust from city officials as they have demonstrated not only an exceptional level of community and volunteer support, but also have risen to be a role-model for other street fairs in San Francisco which have faced opposition from various neighborhood groups. With the assistance of the high-profile , the gate donations totaled more than 0,000 in 2006 and the methodology emulated at other street fairs like the Sisters' , the and .
The fair annually draws 400,000 visitors, including kinky leather fans from around the world, and is the third-largest street event in California, after the and parade. Each year, net proceeds from Folsom Street Fair, including gate donations and beverage sales, are given to qualified local charities ("beneficiaries"). These include charities working in public health, human services, and the arts, as well as beverage partners, and the who lead the organizing effort at the gates. The event regularly generates over 0,000 annually for charity.Extreme public nudity acts done at events, like the one shown here of Folsom Street Fair, have been accused of being against the law, even when the events are promoted by the local administration and police, and all acts are done with consent.
Fair organizers present one or two live stages for bands and artists. Previous headlining live acts have included , , , (DJ Team), , , , , , , , , , , , , (featuring JD Samson of ), , , , Adult (band), and . Over time, the fair is becoming more and more well known as a venue for top-notch, international underground musical talent. There are one or two dance areas with DJs and , featuring DJ sets from the likes of , , The Cucarachas featuring , and of . In 2006, Folsom Street Fair introduced a women's area, first dubbed "Bettie Page's Secret" then changing its name in subsequent years to "Venus' Playground." In 2007, an erotic artists' area was established as well with a performance art stage appearing in 2013 in honor of the 30th fair.
Since 1997, a smaller event called has been organized in by . There is no affiliation between Folsom Street East (NYC) and Folsom Street Events (SF).
was established in in 2003 in order to bring the non-profit leather festival concept pioneered by the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco to Europe.
The version of Folsom Street Fair was dubbed Folsom Fair North, FFN or FFNTO] and was held every July since 2003. The FFN was canceled permanently in 2008.
The annual "Magnitude" (Official Saturday Night Dance Event) which has a leather subculture focus has been in existence since 1997. Featured DJs have included Tony Moran, Paul Goodyear, Joe Gauthreaux, Tom Stephan, Manny Lehman, Ted Eiel, Jack Chang, and others. Magnitude now attracts 2,500+ people, almost exclusively gay men. There is also a relatively new Official Closing Party called "DEVIANTS Adult Arcade" which has taken place since 2010 also maintains a leather and BDSM theme but appeals to a broader demographic of fairgoers and party people. DEVIANTS attracts nearly 2,000 people and has featured entertainment from Honey Soundsystem, Hard French DJs, Hard Ton, DJs Pareja, The Black Madonna, Horse Meat Disco, Stereogamous, and many more.
For the 24th annual event held September 30, 2007, the official poster artwork was a photo featuring well-known and community members in festive and attire including "as players in an innovative version of the culturally iconographic" by , complete with table draped with the and "cluttered with , , and various (BDSM) ". The image by FredAlert was used on the official event guide and produced as collector's posters that were displayed throughout the city as advertising for the event. Some conservative religious groups criticized the image as anti-Christian and blasphemous, although media outlets noted that and of the Last Supper painting like 's are numerous, including ones by , , , , (in the film ) and the . Chris Glaser, a gay clergyman and interim senior pastor at San Francisco's agreed that "they are just having fun" with both the painting and the notion of ',' stating he thought it was "tastefully and cleverly done."
From a press release about the poster, Andy Copper, Board President of Folsom Street Events, a non-profit organization, stated, "There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the ‘Last Supper’ painting. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations" and "We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is - nothing more or less. Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. The irony is that was widely considered to be . In truth, we are going to produce a series of inspired poster images over the next few years. Next year's poster ad may take inspiration from '' by or 's '' or even ''! I guess it wouldn't be the Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though."
, and the targeted the largest of the event, , threatening to their products for the company's support of the event and allowing its logo to appear in the ad. Miller asked for its logo to be removed from the poster with a statement on its website: "While Miller has supported the Folsom Street Fair for several years, we take exception to the poster the organizing committee developed this year. We understand some individuals may find the imagery offensive and we have asked the organizers to remove our logo from the poster effective immediately." The Catholic League dropped the boycott within a month with no evidence of Miller's sales being affected.
, who represents San Francisco and who is also , fielded a question on this image as part of her Friday morning press conference. She responded,
It's a question. It's a question. It's about as global a question as you could ask... I'm a big believer in the . I do not believe has been harmed by the Folsom Street Fair.