ROGERS PARK — A handful of anti-gay activists and their cameramen held an event Friday morning dubbing the longstanding Leather Archives & Museum a "perversion museum" that promotes incest, pedophilia and sadomasochism to children.
But Rogers Park neighbors weren't having it.
Naperville-based hate group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality planned the protest at the 16-year-old, adults-only museum at 6418 N. Greenview Ave. in before the International Mr. Leather conference this weekend Downtown.
The four protesters who showed up on behalf of the group (not counting two camera men documenting the whole thing) were quickly outnumbered by local detractors telling them to "go home."
Some neighbors were baffled that the nondescript museum was drawing criticism now after so many years.
"It's been here forever," said lifelong Rogers Park resident John Moore, 59. "This is Rogers Park. This is always what Rogers Park has been like."
Peter LaBarbera, president of the anti-gay group, said he targeted the museum because of its proximity to three neighborhood schools and its affiliation with the weekend conference, which brings tens of thousands of leather enthusiasts to the city annually.
"It really does glorify the most disturbing practices known to mankind, some that are almost so perverse that you can't discuss them in a good public setting," LaBarbera said.
LaBarbera said the museum promoted incest, pedophilia and sadomasochism in a residential neighborhood near schools. The museum also promotes "consensual sexual violence" and "consensual slavery," he said.
But LaBarbera wouldn't say how passing children could get inside the museum, where only adults are admitted and the door is locked around the clock.
"They're not just a museum. They're advocating for the leather lifestyle," he said. "It's extremist ideology hiding behind a nondescript building."
Museum executive director Rick Storer said he welcomed the group's "freedom of expression."
He also said the museum has never hidden its existence from the community.
"It's been full disclosure that we're here. We're not hiding anything," he said. "I'm honesty a little surprised it's been 15 years that we've been in the neighborhood and this is the first time there's been any opposition or questioning of us at all."
He said the museum would be expecting hundreds of visitors over the weekend in conjunction with the leather conference.
As the hourlong demonstration took place outside, neighbors gathered across the street to express their opposition to the hate and voice their acceptance of the museum that replaced a vacant former synagogue-turned-art space.
"I'm glad to see a visual representation of our neighbors accepting that we're here," Storer said. "Like I said, our goal — in addition to being a museum and an archives and a library — is to add value to the neighborhood," he said.
Resident Steven Black, 48, and his partner of 17 years, found fliers distributed by the anti-gay group placed on cars throughout the neighborhood.
They immediately went to work to remove as many as they could, collecting them in a bag and then ripping up each one as they watched the event take place.
Residents rip up fliers distributed by Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. [Benjamin Woodard/DNAinfo]
"I had a couple people stop me and say, 'Hey, did you get that block?' I'd say, 'No, I didn't' and they'd say, 'I'll go take care of that,'" Black said.
His partner, who didn't want to be identified, said residents shouldn't be subjected to "ignorance and hate speech when they get to their car."
"It's kind of sad because it is literally them and no one else," he said. "It's a very specific museum to very specific people, and I don't think any of the elementary schools are going to host field trips there. The fact that they're equating this to pedophilia is ridiculous.
"We're gonna make sure these get recycled," he said of the ripped-up fliers.
LaBarbera, while advocating for certain books and materials to be removed from the museum, accused the counter-protesters of censorship for ripping up his fliers.
"I think that symbolizes the censorship that has become such a part of the spirit of gay activism in this modern age," he said, adding they were "crushing dissent."
He said counter-protests were common at the events he hosts.
"It's interesting to me when a couple people decide they speak for the whole neighborhood," he said.
He said this wasn't the end, and his group would be back. He said BDSM was "gaining in culture," giving the example of the recent popularity of book-turned-film "50 Shades of Grey."
Anti-gay leader Mike Heath, of Maine, also spoke at the event.
He gave a fire-and-brimstone-style speech detailing how the leather "lifestyle" can lead to violence while wearing a ball cap with a cross on it.
Meanwhile, a man with a sign reading, "I'm With Stupid," and an arrow showed up and stood by Heath's side.
"The horrors of hell have no place here, among us the living, who wish for our own sake and the sake of our children, that which is good, that which is beautiful, that which is true, for those are the things which give life," he said. "And that's why the neighborhood needs to call for the immediate closure of the Leather Archive and Museum."
Will the anti-gay demonstrations lead to the end of the museum?
Moore, a lifelong Rogers Parker, said no.
"I think the turnout says everything," he said.
The event wrapped up about 11:30 a.m., ending in a shouting match between the two sides.
Residents told LaBarbera to "go home, you're not welcome here. This is not your neighborhood."
Others told him to "live like Christ. ... Read your own Bible."
Another: "I don't hate you; I feel sorry for you"
"We would like them to move to another neighborhood," LaBarbera said, "but obviously they have the right to advocate for what they believe in, and that's what we're doing."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: