Keynote Speaker - Judy Tallwing McCarthey

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Judy Tallwing McCarthey has been a true Renaissance person, succeeding in enough careers to satisfy a dozen high achievers. She ran her own construction company for a number of years, then operated Mr S Leather in San Francisco, designing innovative toys and tools. She became the executive director of a domestic violence victims program in Washington, and finally created a no-kill animal shelter, running it for 15 years, culminating in 6 weeks rescuing people and their pets in Louisiana after Katrina. Throughout her life Judy has been an artist, drawing on her Native American heritage for inspiration. The Heard Museum in Arizona and the Smithsonian both house early paintings of Judy’s, and she currently shows regularly at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore.

Of Apache, Tewa, and African descent, she was raised in a desert encampment at the foot of the Bradshaw Mountains. Raised from earliest days to become her clan’s matriarch, trained in Medicine by her Grandmother, she ran wild in the desert with her pack of 14 dogs. When authorities placed her in boarding schools she ran away at the first opportunity, quickly gaining a reputation as an incorrigibly stubborn child who loved to read but had no use for school, and who, worse still, drew the other girls to her like flies to honey. The lovestruck girls named her the King of Hearts, which the educators responded to by placing her in solitary confinement for nearly a year when she was 12. When she finally was released she fled to the streets, passing as a boy. In 1959 a leatherman plucked the adolescent off the streets and allowed her to serve him. She polished more size 13 pumps and boots than she had ever seen before. He was the first and last Sir she ever served; from then on she was a dedicated top. Years later, having never set foot in a high school hallway, now a welfare recipient and mother to 5 young children, she enrolled in college. She became student body president and fought to change regulations so that welfare recipients could attend collage instead of welfare to work programs that merely shunted women into lower paying “women’s work”. Her eyes were opened to political activism and she participated in the early years of the National Organization for Women and fought to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, all while graduating with a Bachelors with a 4.0, starting law school, and giving birth to her 6th child practically on the floor of the International Women’s Year Conference in Houston in 1977. She was the very first International Ms Leather in 1987, taking great pride in representing her fellow leatherwomen. She then became the Leather Conference’s Keynote Speaker at 1987’s March on Washington, and at the International Mr. Leather in 1988 held at the Vic Theater in Chicago, Judy delivered a rousing guest speech demanding leather political activism. Her speech changed the focus of leather contests for good, from beauty pageants to community activism. She was Co-Chair of the National Leather Association (1988-1992). Judy has continued to judge, teach, and speak at various leather events and has been honored with a plethora of awards from the leather community. Having raised numerous leatherkids as well as counting 24 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren (biological), Judy Tallwing McCarthey has truly become an esteemed elder in both the leather community and the wider world.