Keira Harbison, With the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Talks Civil Rights for Alt-Sex People

Keira Harbison, With the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Talks Civil Rights for Alt-Sex People

NCSF, or the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, is first and foremost a resource for the alt sex communities, but it’s more about freedom than it is about sex.

In 1997, a group of New York BDSM activists founded NCSF to fight for both privacy rights and the legality of alternative, consensual sexual behavior among consenting adults.  The nationwide Coalition is currently headquartered in Baltimore, but its 13 board members and 40+ volunteers work remotely from all over the US. Now NCSF partners with over 90 different organizations that support its mission, including counseling and psychotherapy centers, sex toy boutiques, clubs and event organizers such as Naughty. NCSF has also worked with the ACLU, the Free Speech Coalition, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, among other groups, on specific intersectional projects.

NCSF’s work has included providing legal help for people who are being discriminated against on the job or during custody battles; training people to speak with the media; helping business owners and event organizers navigate anti-sex zoning laws and discrimination from venues and hotels; advocating for the rights and safety of sex workers; participating in and presenting research at scientific conferences to dispel stereotypes; fighting online censorship; educating all communities about consent and helping to legally define the term; destigmatizing sexuality among the psych community; leading workshops in sex positive spaces, and offering general resources and education, such as a list of kink and polyamory-aware doctors and therapists.

Keira Harbison, Chair of the NCSF Board, has been representing NCSF at Naughty N’awlins for the past three years. Naughty spoke with her about NCSF’s work and her personal experience as a sexual freedom activist.

How did you learn about NCSF?

In 2011, when I was 22, I moved to New Orleans. I was trying to get my foot in the door in the local kink community, and I went to a class taught by one of the board members, Julian Wolfe. We ended up spending the whole weekend sightseeing together, and they asked me what I want to do my life. At that time, my number one goal was to open a sex positivity center. One of my big values in life is education and being open to who you are, and I pictured it kind of like a community center, like how a lot of cities have LGBTQ centers. Julian was like, “You need to be part of NCSF.”

How long have you been “out” as kinky?

I have five partners. Each of those partnerships plays out a little differently in the way that I interact with them as a swinger, as a kinky person, as a polyamorous person. I’ve been out to most people since college. I’ve never felt an intense need to hide who I am. I’m very privileged. I come from a middle-class, white, liberal background. I was always taught be who you are, and that’s enough.

I came out to my parents when Trump got elected. Because of the nature of the work, I felt it was important for them to know, on the small chance that we had any issues and made the news. Since then, I’ve been out to everyone, including bosses, who have just rolled with it. I work as a personal trainer, and I don’t present myself in a conservative way. I have blue hair, so there’s no hiding that I’m “more than meets the eye.”

My parents aren’t enthusiastic about kink, but they accept it for what it is. I’m proud of what I do for NCSF. I’m proud of who I am, and that’s kind of infectious.

How has working with NCSF affected your personal journey?

Over the course of my work with NCSF, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve grown a lot. I honestly believe that without NCSF, I would not be who I am now. The pride really came when I took on more responsibility and saw the positive impact I had within my community.

What has been the biggest victory for NCSF during your time there?

We did a lot of work to take some of the sexual content out of the DSM-5 [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual which lists all psychological disorders], so you couldn’t be “diagnosed” as kinky—so that being a masochist or a sadist wouldn’t be considered a mental illness. We are continuing that work for the DSM-6, so that it’s even more kink-friendly, and so that [sex-related] stuff that has already been taken out or that never was in doesn’t wind up being put in.

Many of our programs focus on normalizing our constituents’ lives and lifestyles. For me, those  are the most important.

The other thing that I’m really excited about is that right now we’re working with the American Law Institute, talking about what “consent” means in a legal context and trying to get that into the next model penal code on sexual assault.

How does the law handle consent now?

There is no definition of consent in the law now. What that means is that any consenting adult who might enjoy being tied up or spanked, anyone who read Fifty Shades of Gray and wants to go out and try BDSM, cannot legally consent to assault. In a legal battle, if the opposing party wants to push that on you, it is possible that they can use your consensual sexual practices against you or your lover, because legally, you cannot consent to it. There have been instances when the state has decided to press charges, [over the protests of those] involved in the situation at hand.

What kind of work do NCSF volunteers do?

We have a volunteer who writes amicus briefs for us [legal documents filed in a case by non-litigants with a strong interest in the outcome]. We have volunteers who collect incident reporting and responses. We have volunteers who guide lawyers representing consent cases, if the lawyers are unfamiliar with kink.

We take volunteers from all walks of life. We match people’s interests and skill-sets with what we need, because someone who walks the walk and talks the talk of a particular industry can advocate for us better.

One of our board members is part of the LGBT Bar Association, and he goes to those events and talks about NCSF. And that has a bigger impact that if I were to go to the LGBT Bar, because he already has the respect of the people involved.

We need volunteer counselors and therapists, people who can approach the APA and attend other professional conferences to advocate for us. The two hardest things for us to find are volunteers for grant writing and research and web development/graphic design.

What is NCSF in a nutshell?

When I explain NCSF to people, I say, “We’re a resource.” When you take all the fluff away, that’s what we are. We’re a resource for our constituents to get their needs met in a legal context and in an educational context, in order to feel “normal,” to be confident in who they are, and not have to worry about being persecuted for who they are.

What are some of the stereotypes people deal with?

We’ve come a long way. People aren’t completely offended by the fact that I’m polyamorous and kinky. It’s less scary today than it was years ago. A lot of that has to do with positive media, things like Fifty Shades of Gray. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that representation matters. If we are represented in spaces, we will become normal and no one will think anything of it.

The most common stereotype is that we’re “godless heathens” that can’t be around children. There’s a lot of comparison to pedophilia, which is not the case. We are not pedophiles. We are consenting adult doing consenting adult things. NCSF doesn’t work with anyone under the age of 18, ever.

There’s even judgement within the lifestyle communities, because people are judgmental, period, end of story. If it’s not the way you’re used to it it's way easier to judge than learn to understand it. If you’re a swinger who keeps kink in the bedroom, you may judge master/slave relationships that are pervasive into every corner of those people’s lives.

Stereotypes within the community makes working together harder, but at the end of the day, we’re all being judged by the legal system and the government and whoever else wants a say in what we do and who we are, and we’re all being told that our sexuality and the way that we love is wrong. So on a base level, we’re fighting for the same thing.

What is NCSF’s role at Naughty N’awlins?

As a representative of NCSF, I do a lot of networking with business owners. We are part of the parade every year. We’ve helped Bob handle consent policies and beef up engagement on talking about consent. Last year I was part of several panels, and I may be this year, as well.

One of our main goals is making sure people understand that we are a part of them. It’s a mutually beneficial, positive relationship. The clubs and the lifestyle people at this event need us, just in case something happens. NCSF has helped a large number of club owners and other events handle hotels and zoning laws to prevent censorship and moralization of spaces.

The other part of it is that we are in the lifestyle. I go there and have lots of fun participating. It’s not just work. It’s fun.

What do you look forward to about Naughty each year?

Me, personally, The Ruby Slipper Cafe!

I really enjoy spending time with the club owners and networking. It’s heartwarming to see them get excited about the work that I do. The passion that Bob and Tess and Nicki and JonGunnar have for getting NCSF involved is really exciting for me. It shows me that I’m not just pushing my way in, that they appreciate what we’re doing.

And I really enjoy the intense sexual energy of the play parties.

Why is the parade important?

It shows New Orleans that we’re not just the dirty swingers or a bunch of heathens that are taking over their city in order to have kinky sex. We’re just like them. The parade is normalizing. [Note: Parading is a huge part of New Orleans culture!]

On a more NCSF level, getting our name out there at that level [with a banner and float] reminds the participants at Naughty that we’re a big piece of their safety. I’m there and I’m interacting, but there are several thousands of people and only a limited number of NCSF volunteers, so we can’t be everywhere.

The people on the streets who see us, they may go look us up and get more info. Families see  us dancing in a parade, not fucking in front of their children. People who tend to be against swingers and poly and kink are the ones who are afraid we’re going to turn their children into godless heathens. If we’re just out in public having good clean fun, that’s an important message to send.

JonGunnar Gylfason