A Leather Last Supper?
The 24th annual Folsom Street Fair will take place this weekend in San Francisco, billed as the "world's largest and best loved" leather event. People of all sexual orientations and gender identities will gather around the vast diversity of leather-related parties, demonstrations, dinners, exhibits and of course the street fair itself.
This year, the fair has been advertised with a poster that seems to be evoking an image of the Last Supper styled after da Vinci's famous painting. But this depiction includes leatherfolk as the disciples and the table replete with not only bread and wine but also various leather paraphernalia. It includes a shirtless African American "Jesus" with an outrageous drag queen on his right and a harnessed leatherman on his left.
What ought religious communities and especially Christians make of this portrayal of what is arguably the central image in Christian faith and worship? For some, this poster will quickly be dismissed as a marketing ploy in bad taste or perhaps as sacrilegious. Others will simply take it as harmless playfulness.
Most people will probably not consider that these leatherfolk might be taking religion and faith quite seriously indeed. A growing number of people involved in the leather community understand their particular sexual practices and relationships in deeply spiritual ways. Workshops on spirituality are slowly starting to appear at leather conferences and gatherings, such as the Folsom Street Fair. Many are actively and generously involved in charitable work around poverty, hunger, and homelessness -- work they understand as part and parcel of their leather spirituality.
In fact, the image of a Leatherfolk Last Supper might well capture a traditional Christian insight. These leatherfolk have brought their whole selves to the table, the very table to which Jesus welcomes all. This is nothing more or less than what all of us are invited to do. Rather than compartmentalizing our lives between the religious and non-religious bits, we're invited to bring all of who we are to God's own table.
This Folsom Street Fair poster might even communicate the good news of Christian faith better than some of the worship services in our churches: There ought not to be any exception to the radical welcome of the Gospel. And that's exactly what I see in this poster -- people who have put themselves on the table, leather gear and all. It is at once a deeply human and deeply spiritual portrayal -- exactly like the final meal Jesus shared with his closest friends.
This poster can also be a good reminder for the wider LGBT community. Leatherfolk can make some LGBT people nervous. They worry about scandalizing "mainstream" American society in our struggle for civil and religious rights. At the very least, Christians ought to know better. It's precisely the "scandalous" welcome of Jesus that makes the Last Supper so iconic -- indeed, so hopeful.
Should this poster be condemned as sacrilegious? Hardly. People of faith can instead thank the organizers of the Folsom Street Fair for reminding us about the radical welcome all of us find at God's own table.
The Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, PhD
Senior Director, Academic Research & Resources
The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry
To see the "Leather Last Supper" image, click here.