File:Folsom Street Fair.JPG

A Folsom Street Fair banner (utilizing the Leather Pride flag) hangs from a city lighting pole and marks the end of Leather Pride Week in San Francisco, California

The annual Folsom Street Fair is held on the last Sunday in September and caps San Francisco's Leather Pride Week. The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as Folsom, is located on Folsom Street between 7th and 12th Streets, in San Francisco's South of Market district. It was started in 1984 and is California's third largest spectator event and the world's largest leather event and showcase for S&M products and culture.[1] It has grown as a non-profit run and non-profit benefitting organization 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 spanking for donations to capitalize on the adult-themed exhibitionism.

History and development

Folsom Street had been the center of San Francisco's leather community since the 1960s. This community had been active in resisting the City's ambitious redevelopment program for the South of Market area throughout the 1970s. But as the AIDS epidemic unfolded in the 1980s, the ability of this community to stand up to downtown and City Hall were dramatically weakened. The crisis became an opportunity for the City (in the name of "public health") to close bathhouses and regulate bars---businesses that had been the cornerstone of the community's efforts to maintain a gay space in the South of Market neighborhood.[2]

In 1984, as these spaces for gay 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 at a time when people in City Hall and elsewhere were apt to think it had gone away, 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 safer sex) which bathhouses and bars might otherwise have been ideally situated to distribute.[2]

Thanks to the success of the first Folsom Street Fair, the organizers created the Up Your Alley Fair on Ringold Street in 1985. This fair moved to Dore Street ("Dore Alley") between Harrison and Folsom in 1987.


File:Folsom 2003 bondage demo.jpg

Bondage demonstration with Van Darkholme at the 2003 Folsom Street Fair

As one of the few occasions when sadomasochistic 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 the hundreds of photographers and videographers. Although the costumes and activities can be eye-opening and transgressive, the event tends to be very peaceful and non-threatening.[3] The organizers have 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 Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence the gate donations totalled more than $300,000 in 2006 and the methodology emulated at other street fairs like the Sisters' Pink Saturday, the Castro Street Fair and San Francisco Lovefest.

The fair annually draws 400,000 visitors[4][5] including kinky leather fans from around the world, and is the third largest street event in California, after the Tournament of Roses Parade and San Francisco Pride parade.[6][7] Each year all proceeds from the Folsom Street Fair, including gate donations and beverage sales, are given to qualified local charities. These include AIDS charities and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who lead the organizing effort at the gates themselves. The event generates over $250,000 annually for charity.[8]

Several gay pornographic studios conduct casting calls at Folsom Fair events like Treasure Island Media.

Folsom Street East

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Partial suspension bondage demonstration at Folsom Street Fair 2005.

Since 1997, a smaller event called Folsom Street East has been organized in New York City by GMSMA.[6][9]

Folsom Europe

Folsom Europe was established in Berlin, Germany in 2003 in order to bring the non-profit leather festival concept pioneered by the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco to Europe. A London, England version is in the works.[6][10]

Folsom Fair North (FFN)

The Toronto version of Folsom Street Fair is dubbed Folsom North, FFN or FFNTO and has been held every July since 2003. The 5th anniversary event will be Sunday July 20, 2008.

2007 poster controversy

For the 24th annual event held September 30, 2007 the official poster artwork was a photo featuring well-known LGBT and BDSM community members in festive and fetish attire including Sister Roma "as players in an innovative version of the culturally iconographic" The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci complete with table draped with the Leather Pride flag and "cluttered with sex toys, whips, and various (BDSM)restraints".[11] The artwork by FredAlert[12] was used on the official event guide as well as produced as collector's posters that were also posted throughout the city for advertising. Some conservative religious groups criticized this as anti-Christian and blasphemous.[13][14] Senior Pastor at San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church agreed that "they are just having fun" with both the painting and the current notion of 'San Francisco values' stating he thought it was "tastefully and cleverly done."[12]

From a press release about the poster, Andy Copper, Board President of Folsom Street Events, a non-profit organization, states "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."[15] 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 da Vinci was widely considered to be homosexual. 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 'American Gothic' by Grant Wood or Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' or even 'The Sound of Music! I guess it wouldn't be the Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though."

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Masked fellow at the fair

The Catholic League, Concerned Women for America and an 'ex-gay' group targeted the largest mainstream sponsor of the event, Miller Brewing Company, threatening to boycott their products for the company supporting the event and allowing its logo to appear in the ad.[16] Miller asked for their logo to be removed from the poster with a statement on their 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."[17] The Catholic League dropped the boycott within a month[18] with no evidence of Miller's sales being affected.

The conservative group Concerned Women for America (CWA) called on California's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to condemn the advertisement.[citation needed] CWA's policy director Matt Barber said "Gay activists disingenuously call Christians 'haters' and 'homophobes' for honoring the Bible, but then lash out in this hateful manner toward the very people they accuse." On September 28, 2007 as part of her Friday morning press conference, Pelosi, a Catholic,[12] responded to a question stating "It's a Constitutional question. It's a religious question. It's about as global a question as you could ask...I'm a big believer in the First Amendment. I do not believe Christianity has been harmed by the Folsom Street Fair."[19]

See also


  1. Cheap date - what to do? -
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rubin, Gayle. "The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997" in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Light Books, 1998).
  3. Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco (Yelp) (2006-09-25). Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  4. Template:Cite press release
  5. Folsom Street Events. Folsom Street Fair FAQ. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Template:Cite podcast
  7. charles. Metroblgging San Francisco: Folsom Street Fair. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  8. Folsom Street Events. Folsom Street Fair Beneficiaries. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  9. Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA). Folsom Street East. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  10. Folsom Europe e. V.. Folsom Europe. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  11. Gerstein, Josh (September 27, 2007). Catholic Group Threatens Battle With Miller Beer Over Racy Ad. New York Sun. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Cassell, Heather (27 September 2007; Vol. 37, No. 39;). Folsom art draws fire from the right. Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
  13. Catholic Group Urges Boycott of Miller Brewing Co. Over San Francisco Fair Sponsorship. Fox News (September 27, 2007). Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
  14. Other Last Suppers: Where's the Outrage? | Slog | The Stranger | Seattle's Only Newspaper
  15. Folsom Street Fair
  16. Newscenter Staff (September 27, 2007). Catholic Group Calls For Miller Beer Boycott Over Folsom Fair Ad. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved on 2007-09-29.
  17. Miller Brewing Co. Age Check
  18. Miller Beer Ban Ends With Apology 2 November, 2007
  19. Folsom Street "Last Supper Ad" Sparks Controversy. KTVU (September 29, 2007). Retrieved on 2007-09-29.

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