By Tom Yates
The Defenders LLC/Washington DC celebrated their 22nd anniversary Mass with Dignity/Washington on January 19, 2014. In celebration, the Defenders thanked the Dignity/Washington community for their continuing support in fundraising, service, and community building. The Defenders gave out donations of $500 each to Dignity/Washington, Brother Help Thyself, and Damien Ministries.
The 2013 Michael Olivieri Award was presented to member Patrick Bittinger for service to the Defenders, both to the local chapter and the national organization.
The Defenders present the Michael Olivieri Award every two years. Nominees must have made a significant contribution to the goals, purposes, and ideal of the Defenders, and have shown continued service to Dignity. Nominees must also be recognized and respected by their peers as someone who promotes the values of the Defenders.
Michael J. Olivieri was a member of Dignity/New York, a gay activist and leatherman, who organized the first Defenders Leather/Levi Club in New York City in 1981, under the sponsorship of the local Dignity chapter. Although at the time there were many other leather clubs, Michael recognized the need for, and the possibilities of, a unique club that would integrate the spiritual, social, and sexual aspects of leather folks.
The gradual growth of Defenders, from the first club into a network of clubs, and their continued existence after 32 years, is a testament to the validity of his idea.
In 2002, Mr. Bruce Zehnle, a charter member of the original New York City club and partner of Michael Olivieri, made a generous gift to Defenders USA to endow a permanent award in Michael's name.