LEATHER PRIDE FEST: Gateway to Leather Week & Folsom

The seeds of love over violence, carefully tilled with a respect for personal agency are fundamental principles that take full bloom in Leather sub-culture during San Francisco’s Leather Pride Week.

Information

  • Name: Leather Pride Fest ‘22
  • Address: Folsom St. to Harrison St., from 8th to 13th Streets
  • When: September 18th to September 25th
  • Website: https://www.leatherpridefest.com/

Leather Pride Fest is a mandatory experience for any who would truly appreciate San Francisco.  There is simply no other time in human history and no place better than San Francisco to witness such an epic celebration of sexual freedom organized by a diverse culture that demonstrates how important tolerance and mutual respect are to future of our species.

Nowhere are these values more apparent than during San Francisco’s annual Folsom Street Fair, the world’s largest leather event, on Sunday, September 25th, 2022. Whether you’re simply looking for a new experience or well-versed in the art of kink and geared-up for Leather, you’ll have a great time at this one-of-kind annual celebration.

History of Folsom Street and Leather Pride Week

During the ’60s and ’70s, many gay motorcycle clubs gathered at popular leather bars lining Folsom Street. However, the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s resulted in the local government shutting down local business where gays gathered in the area, prohibiting bathhouses and placing stringent regulations on local bars. The LGBTQ community held a street fair to demonstrate solidarity during a harrowing time, and Folsom Street Fair has been going strong ever since. Today, in one of the largest public gatherings held annually anywhere on Earth, more than 500,000 people come together from all parts of the world during Leather Pride Week to celebrate sexuality and its consensual expression within the Leather and BDSM community.

Highlights of Leather Pride Week

So many interesting things happen during Leather Pride Week that it’s hard to figure out what to do first. The attendees often come dressed in their best gear, proudly donning latex, leather, rubber and other fetish apparel.  Unlike just about any other city on the planet, nudity is permitted within the confines of the fair.  You’ll see some truly dazzling displays of body paint and other personal accessories that, in only the barest sense, stand between self-expression and imagination. If  you’ve ever enjoyed people-watching, here is an opportunity to see amazing people who are quite talented at garnering attention.  Hundreds of vendors display a wide range of hand-made and niche products, from monogrammed leather whips to exquisitely adorned latex dresses. You could spend all day simply walking from booth to booth discovering novel things to do with products you’ve never imagined.  The vendors are happy to talk about product safety, proper use, material care, or how to select the right size and fit for whatever grabs your attention.

Should your bucket-list demand to be scratched through first-hand experience, public ‘play stations’ give the curious a chance to satisfy any BDSM itch, from simple knot-tying to the best way to stand while swinging a flogger. You can also see some truly mesmerizing performances at the erotic artists’ stage, giving you a titillating look into the range of expression practiced by members of San Francisco’s leather and BDSM underground.  Just through osmosis, you’ll gain a much better understanding of San Francisco’s leather community, the wide variety of kinks that it embraces, and an appreciation for the diversity of the subculture.

Many focus on the BDSM and leather attractions, but the music is also exceptional, especially if you’re into electronic dance, alternative artists and indie music.  A central main stage has a variety of live shows performing during the whole fair, adding to the pervasive energy all around. Folsom Street Fair is known for featuring the latest musical talent.  If you want to catch concerts from up and coming performers, definitely make the time to hang-out and enjoy the experience around your favorite genre-inspired sound stage. The public play stations and impromptu side shows may get most of the popular attention, but you may discover that the dance areas and musical repertoire are easier to immerse yourself in and just as memorable for the investment of adrenaline.

Essentials of Folsom Street Fair

Folsom Street is the fair’s original anchor spot, but the footprint has expanded to include a large portion of SOMA, from Eighth to 13th streets. It takes place on the last weekend of September, this year on Sunday the 25th, 2022,  at the conclusion of Leather Pride Week. The fair grounds are sectioned off, with gates to manage entry and exit for this decidedly ‘adults-only’ event.  (Note: 21+ due to the prevalence of alcohol).  Attendees don’t have to pay anything to get in, although a $10 donation at the gate benefits local LGBTQ+ charities and awards you a sticker that temporarily gives you +2 on all saving-throws modified by charisma* until 6:00am on Monday morning, as long as the sticker remains visible and attached. (*curtesy of the a magical blessing performed by the San Francisco Chapter-house of the Sisters of Perpetual indulgence, a community-based 501(c)3 charitable organization, who serve quite conspicuously as the fair’s ambassadors and gatekeepers.)

Leather Pride Week’s 2022 Event Lineup

Folsom Street Fair’s 2022 Event Lineup

In addition to the 200+ exhibitor booths you can browse and shop from, there are a multitude of street performances and outdoor dance parties from 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

The Main Stage, located on Howard and 10th Streets, boasts performances from top-name indie, electronic, and alternative performing artists like L7, Imperial Teen, Superet, and many more.

For the fairer of the fair, join thousands at The Playground, located on 9th St. between Folsom and Howard Streets, where women of every kind and all trans and nonbinary folks come together to create a positive space for all.

There will be live performances, kinky demos, spontaneous bouts of street theater, DJs, sexy people dancing in all manner of wardrobe, random acts of joy, and the occasional moment of eroticism!

Leather Pride Week is far more than a zoological experience for those unaccustomed to the public display of alternative modes of affection, but one that encourages participation, while respecting the boundaries implied by mutual consent.  If you’re at all uncertain, or have reservations about when and where the lines more typical to public interaction have been redrawn within the borders of Folsom, at least for the duration of the fair, rely on these rules to help rebalance the boundaries of your personal space.  (Note: once you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to make a wish.)

Do’s and Don’ts of Leather Pride Week:

  • Do come in with an open mind. You’ll find plenty of fascinating, new things to explore, along with people happy to tell you more.
  • Do bring plenty of water and sunscreen. You’re going to be out in the sun all day in large crowds, so you want to prepare for the conditions.
  • Do come to the fair early, and block off the entire day to explore. You’ll have a great time well into the evening, and it’s hard to pull yourself away once connected to this delightfully different, genuinely accepting and high-energy crowd.
  • Don’t attend with anyone under 21. This is NOT an underage-friendly event, so plan on getting a babysitter for the day.
  • Don’t bring your pet(s) or your emotional-support Iguana.  The fair is quite crowded, loud and mostly a frightening and dangerous place for anyone with more than two legs.
  • Do remember to ask him for his number.  
  • Don’t base your understanding of the leather and BDSM subculture on popular stereotypes, Hollywood interpretations or media hype.  Spend some time learning about the history behind the event, why it is celebrated and the motivations of its participants.  A little research ahead of time will give you the right language to use, which is critical to shaping positive interactions as well as your own expectations.
  • Don’t talk to performing artists when they’re in the middle of their performance. You’ll see a wide range of talent, some staged, some seemingly impromptu, and the performers need to concentrate on what they’re doing for their safety and the safety of everyone. In most cases, you can catch them at a booth or public play area after they’re done, which is a much better time to ask questions, share stories and trade phone numbers.
  • Do remember to ask her for her number.
  • Do always remember the rule of consent, before any kind of personal engagement, even if only by voice.  Folsom plays host to many diverse and even a few ‘arcane’ interests, where the relaxation of certain traditional moirés may be counter-balanced by even more strict prohibitions that may not be as obvious to those unfamiliar with a particular practice.
  • Do make sure to check and see if the person you are engaging with is okay with sharing information, before assuming they should.  The range of BDSM expression includes those who may voluntarily yield their agency to someone else which can make for awkward circumstances when you seem to be ignored, only because you have failed to ask the appropriate person for permission.
  • Do remember to ask both of them for their number.

How to Get to the Fair

It’s good to remember that 13 blocks of SoMa will be closed to vehicular traffic, in a city with otherwise excellent public transportation, that is notoriously difficult to navigate by car.  If you attempt to drive your car to Folsom Street Fair, you will spend much of your day negotiating traffic problems instead of enjoying the festivities. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Muni both give you remarkably easy access to and from this exciting destination. The fair spans across a massive area, so check for the public transit station closest to where you want to start your adventure.

Be aware that public transit will be somewhat crowded due to the amount of people coming into the fair.