What started as a leather theme night at a local gay bar 12 years ago has evolved into a weekend-long destination for gay men from around the country. The Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend (clawinfo.org) takes place at the Cleveland Sheraton Airport Hotel April 24 to 27. It's three days of kink-filled parties, friendship, workshops and events. CLAW co-founder and chairman Bob Miller filled us in on everything leather.
So how long has this event been going on?
BM: CLAW started as a bar night in the Tool Shed bar on Jan. 27, 2002. It's grown every year — we've been in downtown hotels for 10 years, since 2004, and this is our first year outside of downtown.
You're a Michigan native, right? How did you end up getting involved with this in Cleveland?
BM: I was a contestant at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago, representing a bar in west Michigan, and that year I met Dennis McMahon, from Cleveland, and he was Mr. Cleveland Leather. We became friends, good friends, and we went around to different events that year and one weekend he asked what I thought of having some sort event in Cleveland and would I like to help with it. Well, I said yes and I ended up creating CLAW with him. We started it at the Tool Shed and it was a big success right away and got a bunch of donations for a big silent auction, arranged a brunch at Bounce night club, and I had a friend who was a designer who made posters that made it look like we were already a big deal.
And what's the draw for so many people to come?
BM: The draw is it's a bunch of masculine men in leather and gear, cruising for sex or seeing their friends, all in one place. That's still the main draw, people go for that. But what CLAW is — we have a huge vendor mart, about 35 workshops and discussion groups on various things like BDSM skills, community and peer groups. We have some great entertainment every night: John Pendal, the stand-up comedian on Saturday night, we do a big showcase, a runway kind of thing on Friday night featuring the vendors and just some hot young guys. One thing for Scene readers to know is if they just want to check out some of the night events, after 8 p.m, the night passes are just $15 and there will be parties going on, a big silent auction for about 200 to 300 different items. We have a new thing this year: It's a live auction, right in the center of the lobby on Saturday night, of these three young men who have each had their cock cast in silicone — medical grade silicone, by one of our sponsors SquarePeg Toys. And so it's an auction with these nice looking guys and you actually get to take their cock home with you.
How long have you been personally involved in the leather community?
BM: Well I started as soon as I was an adult and started having sex. It came pretty naturally to me. I didn't become active in this way — as a community person — until CLAW happened. I entered that contest not because I had a lot of spirit for the community, exactly; it was just something fun to do. So, 14 years is the answer.
What is it about leather, specifically, that attracts people to it?
BM: I suppose it's one of those questions that if you have to ask, you don't need to know. Different people have different things that attract them sexually, but most people don't say them out loud. But sex — for most people — sex is about some kind of power exchange, so it's pretty normal, actually, for people to be interested in or attracted to leather, or gear, or high heel shoes or women in fishnet stockings.
I see this money from the event goes to charity and the website says the organization has raised more than $460,000 for charities.
BM: Isn't that a high number for something that started as a bar night?
Oh yeah, that's a lot.
BM: We're very proud of that. We'll pass a half a million dollars with this year's CLAW. We're actually at around $480,000 now because we've helped with some parties around the country throughout the year, so the number's gone up. The charities that have benefited most are Cleveland charities, mostly gay and lesbian and AIDS charities, and some other community health services. Specifically, the LGBT Community Center, the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, the MetroHealth Pride Clinic, Prince of Peace — the community center on the West Side. And the leather charities, there's a big museum and archives in Chicago that needs a lot of support and a sizable percentage of out-of-town money ends up going there. We've also been able to support research into BDSM. The study of sex, in general as a science, is only about a hundred years old because people were afraid of it or whatever — it was used to control people. And the study of BDSM is even newer, so we're happy to help with that.
What is your most memorable or favorite moment from any of the CLAW events?
BM: Hm. Yeah, it's hard to pick one. Last night when I sent the yearbook to the printer was pretty nice (laughs). But it's hard to pick one. Every year it seems remarkably good and I'm so fortunate to get a lot of people coming up to me to tell me how great their experience was, how they met their life partner here, or they tried something great that changed their life, or they didn't feel like it was normal to want the things that they want and feel the way that they feel but now that they've been in a crowd of people like this they realize that it is normal and they feel so much better about themselves.
So the people who come to this, are most of them thoroughly devoted to the leather culture or is it just a temporary venture into it?
BM: There's a mix. It is mostly gay men and most of the guys there are there for sex and to meet guys to have sex with. There are a lot of guys there who get plenty of sex already and they just want to see their friends they haven't seen since last year's CLAW or another event, or they want to meet new friends. Friendships, they're numerous. You end up going to something like CLAW and there's a lot of people there and it really is like a family reunion, kind of. It's a little trite to say it, but it's a gigantic family reunion.