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Philly Forum Advocates Sexual Freedom

by Matthew E. Pilecki

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 10, 2007

What could bring together baby dykes, daddies and at least one dominatrix? The first annual Sexual Freedom Forum, held in Philadelphia on Oct. 6.

About 30 people attended the event, sponsored by Washington-based Woodhull Freedom Foundation. The organization advocates against what it considers sexually repressive laws and attitudes. The day-long forum included panelists from across the country.

Foundation co-founder and executive director Ricci Levy said the so-called sexual freedom movement encompasses every person who either has sex or is looking to have sex. She added the forum highlights her organization's commitment to this cause.

"All issues that you could think of are advocated for under the banner of sexual freedom as a fundamental human right," Levy explained. "We don't want to be silent anymore."

Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, drew parallels between this movement and the push for more women's rights during the 1960s and 1970s. She said the government maintains discriminatory laws against sexuality.

"We're getting screwed without a kiss," Ross said.

National Black Justice Coalition President Alexander Robinson agreed. Bloggers recently criticized him for his comments critical of the arrest of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho] inside a Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport restroom in June. Robinson acknowledged the controversy surrounding the social conservative but maintained Washington has no right to intrude into a person's private life.

"I am offended that government resources are being used to entrap men and women who engage in public sex," he opined. "Even if you wanted to argue that Larry Craig shouldn't have been cruising an airport men's room, which he shouldn't have been, the offense seems trivial... it doesn't seem to fit in the context of a world where sexual freedom is a human right."

Robinson further argued the government has no place in "our bedrooms, in our bathhouses, in our sex clubs and in our play parties." He also challenged what he described as the white gay infrastructure's insistence men are gay simply because they want to have sex with another man.

"There is nothing wrong with being a man who has sex with men and not using the word gay," Robinson argued. "If we are in a world where sexual freedom is a human right, than sexual identity must certainly be a choice [and] not something that can be imposed by [an onlooker]."

Dick Cunningham, co-founder of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, evoked the Declaration of Independence to support the sexual freedom movement.

"What could be more fundamental to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than the right to engage in your own sexual practices [and] your own sexual orientation as you see fit?" he asked. "This whole theme is a chord that you could strike that's deep in the American consciousness."

'There are all these misconceptions of what constitutes sexuality.'

The concept of sexual freedom is nothing new. It gained renewed attention after the World Association of Sexologists drafted a list of 13 sexual rights during its 1997 meeting in Spain. Former Surgeon General David Stacher and others later concluded organized religion and socially conservative attitudes towards sex remain serious obstacles to the expansion of sexual freedom.

Ross added the LGBT movement itself presents an additional barrier.

"Obsession with identity politics becomes a trap," she said.

Ignacio Rivera, a transgender man of color who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., agreed. He founded Shades of Poly after he could not find an online group geared specifically towards polyamorous (those who have simultaneous relationships with more than one person) people of color. Rivera also created a porn company in response to what he described as a polyamorous community dominated by white men.

"It's really important to me because the kinkier I got, the more porn I was watching, the white I got," he said. "I decided I wanted to show people of color who are kinky and in power positions."

Woodhull board member Yosenio Lewis conceded stereotypes and stigmas remain a problem. He described himself as an openly polyamorous person who engages in BDSM (Bondage, Domination and Submission and Sadomasochism) and works for a San Francisco law enforcement agency. Lewis said his employer could fire him at any time based on his sexual preferences.

"What I have recognized is that more and more businesses are instituting policies that say you are an individual and we value you; but if we are going to pay for your health insurance we want to make sure you do things that minimize our risk financially," he said.

Terry Stone, executive director of the National Association of LGBT Community Centers described himself as a "professional queer for about 18 years." He said he remains more concerned about the lack of rights because he cannot legally marry.

"My issues are really around being a gay man, having a partner and also having children," Stone said.

Domina Barbie, a South Philadelphia dominatrix who has been in the business for eight years, added she remains concerned about her livelihood after police shut her former employer's dungeon down after neighbors complained. She concluded most people fail to understand the idea of sexual freedom.

"There are all these misconceptions of what constitutes sexuality," she said. "I don't think most people can imagine how somebody could become erect simply by lacing up a woman's shoe."

Levy conceded the movement remains in its early stages despite its growing popularity among some circles. She described the forum as a success and plans to hold a second gathering at the annual Creating Change Conference next February in Detroit. Levy expressed hope her cause will generate even more converts.

"We want to put a face on the people who are part of this movement, with a touch of humanity," she said. "We also want people to change the dialogue."