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Living History Discussion | Early Leather: San Francisco’s Leather Scene, 1966–1992

  • GLBT Historical Society Museum 4127 18th Street San Francisco, CA, 94114 United States (map)


GLBT Historical Society Museum, 4127 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94114


$5.00 | Free for members

RSVP and purchase tickets here

A panel featuring members of the early San Francisco leather scene and scholars of the local leather and kink community will reflect on leather life in the city from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, the years that witnessed the emergence of this unique subculture. Among the topics that will be discussed are the origins of the leather community in early gay motorcycle clubs, the emergence of a distinct and recognizable scene in the 1970s and the maturation of leather culture during the height of the AIDS epidemic from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.

Panelists include Peter Fiske, a leatherman for the past 55 years and the chairman emeritus of The 15 Association and Gayle Rubin, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the author of a forthcoming book on gay leather culture in San Francisco. Fiske’s book My Leather Life: Early Years 1958–1983 will be available for purchase and signing.

The program is being held in conjunction with “The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Life and Legacy of Alan Selby,” an exhibition currently on view at the GLBT Historical Society Museum.


Peter Fiske has been a leatherman for 55 years. He moved to San Francisco from New York in 1966 and was a part of  the leather/motorcycle scene in the city and a member of the Koalas motorcycle club. He is the chairman emeritus of The 15 Association and its longest-involved member. He served on the board of AIDS Emergency Fund 7 as president in 2000, was a cofounder of the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund and has served on the San Francisco Pride Board. He has been a member of the Leather Hall of Fame since 2017.


Gayle Rubin received her PhD in anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1994 and has been teaching there since 2003. She is the author of a series of groundbreaking articles on the politics of sex and gender collected in Deviations: The Gayle Rubin Reader (Duke University Press, 2012) and a forthcoming book on gay leather culture in San Francisco.

Race Bannon has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBTQ, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention realms since 1973. He’s authored two books, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service, was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company, been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, appeared in numerous documentaries, and currently also writes for the Bay Area Reporter.

Steve Gaynes, San Francisco Leather Daddy XII, came out of the gay, leather and kink polyandrous closet at age 18. Lured out by motorcycles, leather, BDSM and cigars he was a regular patron of New York City’s most notorious bars and sex venues such as The Anvil & Mineshaft. In 1978 he moved to Chicago, where he received his BDSM education from his teacher and mentor, Tony DeBlase. Gaynes, now a member of Delta, attended Hellfire’s Inferno, Golden Fleece and many biker runs. He was a founding member of Open Road Riders of Chicagoland, and a member of the Empire City Motorcycle Club. After moving to San Francisco in 1985, he served on the board of directors for the AIDS Emergency Fund and ICF Leather Alliance, co-founded SmokeOut, and is a chairman emeritus of The 15 Association.

Graylin Thornton, International Mr. Drummer 1993, has been an active leatherman for over three decades and has judged, MC’d and taught at all major leather events. An original member of the South Bay Leather and Uniform Group (SLUG), Thornton produced the first South Bay Leather Weekend and the first Ebony Leather Contest. He’s also produced California Mr. Drummer & Sir/boy and Mr. & Ms. San Diego Leather Week. The 2011 SF Pride Grand Marshall, Thornton has received the Pantheon of Leather Award and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Leadership Award. A former board member of New Leaf Services, Leather Leadership Conference and Leathermen’s Discussion Group, he is featured in the “Unsung Heroes” documentary. Graylin Thornton is currently an Associate Member of Chicago Hellfire Club, a Founding Member of Onyx Northwest and the 2019 Leather Pride Contingent Grand Marshall.

Image credit: Koalas motorcycle group photo, taken at a club run in the Santa Cruz mountains (1967). Photo by Henri Leleu, collection of the GLBT Historical Society.