For those who don’t know, I have been a NELA associate since 2014, and a presenter since FFF #46. Following the abdication of the sitting board in 2017, I volunteered to participate in the “NELA Reboot”, with my efforts primarily focused on the redesign & relaunch of the NELAOnline.org and FetishFlea.com websites. I vended at FFF #52 with The Haunted Cathouse / ABDL Company, and I applied and interviewed for the open Director of Communications position earlier this Spring, but withdrew that application in May after serious reflection about what was best for myself, the community, and the organization. While I have had ongoing concerns for some time, the incident at FFF #53, and moreso the NELA response and aftermath have driven me to withdraw my support for the organization. Below is the letter I submitted to the board earlier this evening:
To the NELA board:
Unfortunately, effective immediately, and with a heavy heart, I am taking an indefinite hiatus from my involvement with the New England Leather Alliance.
Simply put, NELA is failing to fulfill the stated mission of the organization: “NELA is dedicated to making a safer world for BDSM practitioners through advocacy, education, and charitable giving.”. Additionally, the reboot effort that the sitting board was born out of was to help a troubled organization rise up from the ruble into a new era of transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, in the better part of the past two years I have seen little evidence to support that these goals are being advanced.
My hope is that this will be a temporary departure, but given the current ongoing state of affairs, I don’t forsee things changing in the immediate future. During my interview for the Director of Communications position it was made clear to me that my words and actions would reflect on the board and the organization. That extends both ways, and unfortunately at the present moment, an association with NELA comes with numerous negative connotations, and until the organization is able to both own up to it’s errors, and find a path forward to resolve them, I must take a principled stance and cease my volunteering efforts.
My decision to leave has taken some time to formulate. The main reason I got involved with NELA in the first place was driven by my desire to support and enhance the local kink community, and more specifically to ensure that there was a space for AgePlayers, Littles and ABDL’s. I have debated whether or not it would be better to stay to help achieve these ends while continuing to support a flawed organization, or to cut ties in a show of solidarity with the many other seasoned presenters and volunteers who have done so, while losing a valuable platform for education and advocacy. My withdrawal from active participation in NELA was a difficult decision, but one necessary if I am staying true to my ethics.
Below I have outlined the major factors that influenced this decision, as well as a few suggestions on ways to improve. My hope is that there will be seismic-level changes in the organization, enabling a rebuilding of trust with the community, and if and when that happens, I will be here waiting, happy to step up and offer my support once again.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to these concerns from myself, and the community at large. My hope is that the board can step back, regroup, and begin the long and difficult process of healing, learning, and living up to it’s full potential.
- The following is stated without malice, and with a deep love and concern for the community and the organization.
- I don’t believe that there is malice in the hearts of anyone on the board. However, given that no one can know the heart of another, intentions don’t matter, only actions and output.
- It has been said that this NELA board was starting from a place of 0% trust from the community. I respectfully disagree with that assertion: A brand new organization starts at 0% trust. Due to years of ongoing issues across multiple boards and the transition team, the trust level of the current iteration of NELA starts far below 0. This fact needs to be recognized by the board, and any and all decisions coming from the board should start with this in mind. I understand that this job is a largely thankless one. That does not excuse anything short of impeccable ethics and communication at all times.
- I understand that there are many trolls on the internet, and no shortage of folks who like to talk negatively about organizations, people, and issues with no real desire to help. With that being said, it is critically important to understand that is not what is going on here. The exit of many long-time volunteers and seasoned community members should tell you that.
- I both appreciate your offer to listen to what I have to say regarding these issues, while also being taken aback. I understand your intent may be as a personal and professional courteously, but to be honest there’s nothing I can say that people of higher stature and far more tact and diplomacy than I haven’t already told the board directly. Particularly, Thista’s remarks in the board meeting, and the writings from P.E.T.E. and GRLee cover many of the thoughts and feelings I have about the situation far more eloquently than I could hope to. Unfortunately my impression, and that of large swaths of the community, is that the board did not listen, and does not listen, when people speak up. This is true of both the current incident, and overall.
Communication & Accountability
- The FFF #53 incident. It happened, nothing can change that. Once it happened, the only thing that mattered was the response. I, like many members of the community, was absolutely aghast at how, 3 weeks after the incident, the August board meeting was conducted in a way that very obviously tried to ignore this major issue. The fact that it was not included in the agenda was egregious. The fact that it was left until open session was inexcusable. Excuses that the ombudsperson’s report had not yet been discussed as a group fall flat: The board did not and does not need the OBP to tell them that they made grave mistakes, and to accept responsibility for them, even if a plan on rectifying the issue isn’t fully formed.
- Overall it has become clear that there is a major structural issue in the way NELA is organized: From a legal standpoint, NELA is board-driven, as opposed to member-driven, and as such is only answerable to the board, and not the community. I understand that this is not the fault of the current board, but it bears mentioning as it is the root cause of many of the ongoing issues plaguing the organization.
- The board standing by it’s insistence that presenters have always been made aware of policies surrounding handouts and self-promotion. It is simply not true. Regardless of if such a policy does or has existed, it has most certainly not been communicated effectively.
- As Thista pointed out, nobody wants to work for an organization where the rules are seemingly fluid, and an individual can be arbitrarily ejected from an event and slandered online.
- Shutting off comments on official posts in the NELA FL groups is antithetical to transparency, “internet trolls” be damned.
- Statements like “No further comments from NELA will be forthcoming on this issue” is antithetical to transparency.
- The ombudsperson shutting down commentary in FL threads online.
- Having an OBP who is unable to attend events seems problematic. It is critical to have a neutral non-NELA party present at events to act as a mediator or at the very least a witness when there are issues.
- Board meeting minutes taking months in some cases to be prepared for publishing
- A lack of policies, procedures, and clear direction. I’m not sure if these policies don’t exist, or if they simply haven’t been disseminated.
- The error of insisting that the rig at FFF #53 was safe. Given that we can’t change the past, my expectation would be that ownership of this mistake would be taken by the individuals responsible, as well as the board. This has not been the case, and in fact has been completely glossed over in subsequent communications, including the NELA Apology to Skyla and Belle. Whether or not this is a blatant attempt to redirect the public conversation or a genuine oversight is immaterial: It must be acknowledged.
- While I understand some of the background as to why the IRT team was removed for last year’s winter Flea, it was never appropriately communicated. This may be more properly placed under the Communication heading, but I will leave it here, as it is a huge perceived safety issue, even if the root cause is communication.
Advocacy & Education
- Telling a presenter “Due to the nature of the demo and the casual atmosphere in which folks may be entering or exiting at any time, handouts are not conducive to the environment.” is antithetical to fostering an educational environment. When it comes to public kink events, EVERYTHING is educational, from the vendors to the lounges to, especially to, demos.
- Not accepting the word of a presenter who is bringing forth a serious safety issue. Does the org trust their presenters, or not? Are the presenters not the subject matter experts on the subjects they’re presenting on?
- A member-driven org. As I see it, until the legal structure of NELA transitions from that of a board-driven organization to a member-driven one, NELA will never truly be answerable to the community. This isn’t conjecture, this is the legal reality. I am certain this idea is distasteful for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that it is the correct one. Nearly all organizations that exist to serve their communities, as NELA purports to be, are member-driven, and governed by associate elections. Truly, this structure is not without their flaws, but it prevents the insularity provided by a board-driven organization.
- Emotional-intelligence training. This was suggested in the August board meeting, and seems to be desperately needed.
- A Director of Communication. I realize the irony of me suggesting this, given the withdrawal of my application, and I’m truly sorry it can’t be me in this role. The lack of communications on numerous issues over the past year and a half has been staggering, overshadowed only by the truly horrific communications surrounding the FFF #53 incident. The original post the day of the Flea was unacceptable, and the NELA Apology to Skyla and Belle, literally copied from Echo’s email was even more abysmal, only serving to illustrate that the board doesn’t take this issue seriously. Of course, a Director of Communication isn’t going to fix the systemic issues present within the org, nor am I suggesting a PR person for the purposes of glossing over real issues.