A comeback for the Conductors

Nashville’s gay leather group, The Conductors, is one of the longest surviving gay social and service groups in the city. The group was founded by a core group of friends who shared an appreciation for leather. Current President Jackie Walton explains, “It’s for those with an interest in leather – its look and feel. We’re a brotherhood interest centered on that. We don’t always even go out in leather. I for instance have a closet full of everything leather you can imagine – but you don’t have to have that to join us.”

In 1982, when the group was founded, introducing leather to the city’s gay nightlife was a risk, as there was the potential for drawing negative attention to the LGBT community from those who disapproved of the “leather lifestyle.” The founders of The Conductors viewed the formation of their group as a way to build fellowship within the leather community while building goodwill in the wider LGBT community by giving something back.

During its first few years, The Conductors supported local charities, like Second Harvest Food Bank and the Angel Tree program, sponsoring food drive programs and other fundraisers at its first two “home bars,” The Crazy Cowboy and The Chute Complex. But when the AIDS crisis emerged in Nashville, The Conductors found the primary beneficiary of their charity work. Soon after Nashville CARES was formed, it developed a relationship with The Conductors, seeking financial assistance for its clients.

The Conductors rose to the challenge, devising a method of support that it still offers today. A direct assistance emergency need program provides support, through Nashville CARES, clients with severe and emergent need, who have exhausted all other sources of financial support. The Conductors program is anonymous. President Walton is proud of the fact that “we support Nashville CARES and in 33 years we’ve never turned anyone down.” They have funded prescriptions, co-pays, eyeglasses, utility bills, home repair, rent, among many other need items. The group has also supported the Thanksgiving meals Nashville CARES offers its clients.

“Back in March of 2013, we celebrated our 32nd year in the community,” Walton says. “Maybe the most members we’ve had is 20, but at that time there were only seven. Some of the older members who have been around for years decided to go alumni, though, and this brings us down to four – basically two households.” The four full members are basically two couples, and while there are a number of associate members, full members are necessary for sustaining a healthy club.

Walton explains that “as a full member you have to attend all meetings, functions like bar night, and events like fundraisers and the AIDS walk. Associate members come when they can, but being a full member is a big commitment and some people can’t dedicate the time.” Walton has seen groups that didn’t survive once their membership fell off, but he views the missions of The Conductors – to support the community through organizations like CARES and to provide a brotherhood for the leather community—as too important to let this group fail.

The Conductors are making sure the group goes out to other groups’ events, like Bear Chested and Sisters’ Nights, as well as getting out to the Grizzlies. “There are people who have no idea who we are, which is sad because we’re a group who’s supporting everyone. Historically, The Conductors has been viewed as a cliquish group, but we don’t want that. We really want to welcome everyone. We have a transgender associate who’s going to become a full member, and my daughter is an associate. It’s a brotherhood of leather people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t accept everybody.”

Walton will be working hard this year to recruit new associates, who have the chance to try the group out to see if the full member path is right for them. “Our mission for this year,” Walton says, “is to grow our group back to a solid fifteen people. We want to make sure The Conductors remains strong, so that we’re able to keep saying yes to every person who comes to us for help.”





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