“I’LL ALWAYS LOVE MY MAMA”: An Interview With Sandy "Mama" Reinhardt

Mother’s Day may come once a year, but every day should be “Mama’s Day”! The Leather community is jam-packed full of guys and gals who donate their time and energy for assorted worthy philanthropic causes, both on the local and national level. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find as iconic a leader and role model as Sandy Reinhardt, AKA “Mama“. She is a true mover and shaker in the Leather and BDSM communities, as well as the LGBT community at large. This inimitable and omnipresent matriarch has lived in Florida, The Bronx, and Greenwich Village. She now calls Dublin, California (a city in the “tri-valley area” across the Bay from San Francisco) her home, but Mama never seems to stay in one place for very long. Mama can be seen at any given Leather event, from The City by the Bay to The Bay State, throughout the year… inevitably with her tightknit family around her. (When they announce a group photo with “Mama’s Family” at an event, you’d better get out of the way or be stampeded…) Mama’s brood now boasts 1,000 members in over 42 states nationally and at least four countries internationally. Mama’s Family, many of whom are Titleholders, is indeed a diverse bunch– but what all these guys and girls have in common is that every one of then has made his or her own unique contribution to the queer community. Because of her experience in the Leather Nation, Sandy Reinhardt is one of the most sought-after Judges in Leather contests around the country.

In addition to networking, fundraising is Mama’s specialty: Mama’s Family has helped over 300 different organizations, with proceeds benefiting various charities… but Mama’s biggest and most well-known fundraising events include her annual Breast Cancer Dinners, her LeatherWalk (a benefit for the AIDS Emergency Fund and the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund), and a Toy Drive for Camp Sunburst, a program for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that through the Family’s individual fundraising efforts and through volunteerism with Mama’s Family, Mama’s organization has raised over 3 million dollars annually, both locally and internationally, since its beginning. Mama’s Family was Winner of The Pantheon of Leather Community Awards’ Large Club of the Year Award in 2004. Mama herself was named Woman of the Year by The Pantheon of Leather in 2006 and 2010. She also won the organization’s President Award in 2002 and The Northern California Regional Award in 2004. A documentary about Mama’s life debuted in August 2010 at Pantheon of Leather XX and International Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather 2010. The documentary contains a “fireside chat” with Mama in which our lady recalled memorable moments from her life. She became emotional when she recalled meeting a 6”4” drag queen named Ernestine, who is credited with giving Mama her name. She also became equally teary-eyed when discussing the loss of so many of her friends in the 80’s due to AIDS. On a lighter note, Mama revealed that she owns eight corsets (!), although two of them were stolen at one point, along with a pair of handcuffs. Luckily, she got the corsets back… but not the cuffs…! When asked during the chat if she considers herself an icon in the Leather community, Mama humbly replies “No, I don‘t… I‘m just little old me. I consider myself average like everyone else!”. Sorry, Mama… I disagree! The activist, mentor, mother of two kids and “Mama“ to over a thousand more, and grandmother (!) spoke with Jed Ryan (“Mama’s New York Naughty Boy”) about her affinity for the community as well as her plans for the year.

JR: Hello Mama! Thanks for speaking with me! Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for 2012?

Mama: Yes I do. I want to see more of the Leather, Drag, LGBTQ, Kink, BDSM, et cetera, communities come together & support each other. Its not fair that we are separated.

JR: I would love to see that in 2012 as well! So, in all your years as an activist and mentor, what moment made you most proud?

Mama: My proudest moment is when I was Honored by being Grand Marshall for San Francisco Pride in 2000.

JR: Let’s go back in history a little. Where did your affinity for the gay boys– especially gay boys in Leather– originally come from?

Mama: Well, my girlfriend and I used to do Girl’s night on Wednesdays, and we’d go to a straight bar. Men would think we were looking to be picked up, et cetera, and they’d buy us a drink, and then we couldn’t get rid of them. After the third week, I said, “Let’s go to Castro.” I had lived in Greenwich Village and I had loved the diversity… So, we did. We walked into The Phoenix (no longer there) and when I walked in I was tapped on my shoulder by this tall drag queen — almost seven feet tall– and he asked me “Who are you?” I replied “Sandy” and he said, “Oh no you’re not, you’re my Mama!” He was impersonating Jackee Harry (the hot-to-trot “Sandra” from the sitcom “227”). I said, “OK.”, and the whole night he introduced me as “My Mama”! The next week we went back, and as I walked in, I heard “Hi Mama”!

JR: Wow! So, one of the philanthropic endeavors of Mama’s Family is to raise money for and increase awareness of HIV/AIDS. After over 30 since the virus made its presence known, what have we learned?
Mama: Can you feel my Cuban temperature rising?
JR: Yes, I can!

Mama: So many I knew have died. Imagine knowing 400 to 500 gay men in the late 80’s and early 90’s: spending the night at their houses, having keys to their houses, partying, dancing, laughing, et cetera… and all of a sudden the AIDS epidemic comes along, and all of these BFF’s start passing away. We were devastated. The AIDS Emergency Fund started, and Mama’s Family & Friends started doing fundraising to help with their meds, electricity, rent, phone, et cetera… Sometimes I think some have NOT learned because they were NOT there to see and feel death. Today it’s less. Meds to take, et cetera, is not the cure. Nowadays I still get emails saying “Mama, I just found out I’m HIV positive… Please direct me where to go.” These boys are 28 through 35 years of age. I direct them but at the same time I want to say, “Didn’t you know better?”

JR: I understand! Now, some people have opined that it is difficult to get the younger guys and girls into the Leather community– and that our scene may be suffering from lack of “new blood”, so to speak. What would you say about that?
Mama: Oh Lord, I feel my Cuban temperature rising again!
JR: Again?!

Mama: I keep asking myself, What the heck happened? The Leather bars are closing down and there’s more even more going on for the BDSM/Kink communities. The Leather community is displaced. That’s how I feel. But we will come back!

JR: In your opinion, who is a true role model for the Leather community– besides yourself, of course?!

Mama: My Daddy Alan Selby and Mr. Marcus were my heroes and my mentors, may they rest in peace. If they were here with us today, the Leather community would still be going strong. So much has changed since they passed away.

JR: I’m sorry to hear that. Along those lines, what can every member of the Leather community do, on a day to day basis, to keep our community thriving?

Mama: Get together once a week. Pick a bar and go gather to see each other. We did that once after The Eagle Tavern closed, and we were so happy to see each other. We were hugging & crying. But it was not the same gathering in a mixed bar.

JR: When a Leatherman or Leatherwoman comes to visit your neck of the woods, what stops should she include on his or her visit?
Mama: I don’t know, as I used to say to meet at The Eagle Tavern, but that’s gone, and Daddy’s in the Castro is now called “440”.

JR: Leathermen are often seen as the epitome of old-school masculinity and sexiness, and Leatherwomen are often breaking the barriers on society’s ancient ideas of female sexuality. In your mind, what makes a man and a woman sexy?

Mama: I love a man in leather, with chaps or a kilt and a cigar! As for a woman, speaking for myself, I LOVE my corset, and my high boots: the ones that get harder to walk in as I get older!

JR: (Laughs) Let’s hope those boots were made for walkin’, because you are on the road a lot. Is it difficult to always be traveling?

Mama: No, not at all! Oh my God, I am so blessed. I go where my Family needs and wants me to go. They take good care of me. I love traveling & getting to see them and meeting new folks.

JR: Where can people meet you this coming year?
Mama: January 27th: Mr. Texas Leather in Dallas;
February 16th: Mr. SECC Leather in Augusta;
March 29th: International Ms. Leather in San Francisco;
April 12th: Northeast LeatherSIR/leatherboy/LeatherWoman/Bootblack Contest in Rhode Island;
April 27th: Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend;
May 24th: International Mr. Leather in Chicago… AND I‘ll be celebrating my 70th birthday, and 25 years of going strong!…

Jed: Nice!!!

Mama: …July 13th: Thunder in the Mountains in Denver; and October 26: Mr. Bluegrass Leather in Lexington.  And of course, Folsom, Dore Alley, and a few other events not set in stone yet!
JR: Wow! That’s quite a schedule. Now, lastly… As an animal lover, I have to ask: Do you have any pets?
Mama: Oh yes, I have Roxy. He’s a lil’ bunny and, yes, he’s spoiled…

JR: I would love him to meet MY menagerie. And yes, mine are all spoiled too! Thanks, Mama!

I leave you with one of Sandy “Mama“ Reinhardt‘s quotes: “No one can do everything. Still everyone can do something. Together, we can do anything”. Let’s start now! Visit http://www.MamasFamily.org for more info!

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