Report: Burning Man Leadership Summit 2012

The Burning Man Project is the new face of Burning Man as they move into non-profit status and work on expanding their model as a guide for community growth. While Burning Man is growing limbs  the journey and mission for Toaster was to reach to the roots.

Glossary of terms:

The Burning Man Leadership Summit Mar 29-Apr 1

The 3 day plus summit brought 185 representatives from around the world to network and share resources. Everyone was bringing questions about their own projects, regions and Burning Man related plans. Out of the 185 attendees approximately 60 were Regional Contacts and the remaining were various Community Leaders.

Marian Goodell (aka maidMarian) one of the 6 owners of Burning Man today
Marian Goodell (aka MaidMarian) giving the key note Saturday

Regional Contacts are officially placed representatives from Burning Man who are geographically located (in almost all circumstances) and have a couple of ‘jobs’: 1. they help protect the brand and report back to Burning Man when it is being abused. 2. many help build community events and cultivate the relationship between Burners in their area.

Community Leaders are people in the Burner culture who have emerged and are cultivating the community without any official recognition or remuneration.

Neither get paid for what they do and are voluntary roles.

A Distilling of BM’s New Mission

Burning Man has an amazing network and a lot of people within it looking to make things happen. However, the means to achieving these things has changed. Along with the 501(C)(3) status of the new Burning Man, it’s minions are taking their projects in directions with more legal protection and mechanisms to protect assets and resources under various legal entities.

The network is looking to cultivate more community based projects and are looking for ways of embracing more people into the concept laid out in the 10 principles. That means developing community relationships by sharing our culture and we were given a lot of examples of how to do that and what people have done in their communities.

Burning Man still says the future is in their Regionals. This was a word was called into question a lot. For those unaware (as noted in the opening paragraphs) Regional Contacts have an official role in communities. Regionals are also the names of events that have an official recognition from Burning Man that are micro Burning Man events.

Conceptually the word “Regionals” is deceiving only that with term has become deprecated. R.C.’s are conduits for the community up to Burning Man and down to the communities they represent. It also has a sense that is separates THEM from the community on some level. There was a lot of talk about this word and better ways to communicate the mission of people in these positions.

Steven Raspa clearing the air on ticketsAlso, $teven Ra$pa gave us a great example of the ticket crisis with a visual representation showing why Regional Events are getting more and more relevant over the Burning Man Event in August. Showing us eggs (like ovaries) and a field of sperm working their way in the eggs soon displayed signs saying “Full” and “No Vacancy” representing the ticket sale process that sent so many people into a frenzy recently. He colored in the areas surround the eggs describing those as where people need to flow into; the Regional events.

I have attended a lot of the events like: Element-11 in Salt Lake City, Toast for Arizona, Dark Skies for Las Vegas which went away and now has Forgotten City. Transformus in the Carolinas, Lightening in the Bottle and so many more.


The word Regional was was called into question and with the recent invention of the Meta-Regional roles. Meta-Regionals are a layer between the Regional Contacts and BMHQ. Some are geographical and some are specialized in areas like event planning, conflict resolution or other things relevant to helping stitch the R.C. network together.

Start Here

Okay, so maybe you already read all that stuff above with definitions and floating data about some of the workings in Burning Man that I tried to distil as best as I could. The most frequent question I have been asked so far from OUR community is about the tickets.

Frankly, Burning Man makes limited apologies for the ticket situation but looks at it for some results in a couple ways. 1. Lesson learned; they have tried for years to give us a working ticket system and people get pissed off every year anyway. 2. Who knew??? Who knew there would be such a demand for people wanting to actually go to Burning Man and fill those many Bucket Lists. Well, they should have had an idea since there own mailing list is gi-normous. There is a viral video that went out that is believed to have inspired a lot of attention to the event itself.

If you need tickets there are ways to get them still without having to rely on scalpers; for some people. Be a part of the machine. Be a cog in one of the wheels; an art project, theme camp, volunteer… something integral and save your fucking pennies because you have to be prepared to make sure your needs and safety are met out there no matter what!

Ticket Issue: Done –

Personal Safety on the Playa

The 2012 Queer Burner Leadership Summit revealed one major concern that I brought safety to the table in several ways and I made myself heard: Personal Safety. With the expected influx of people not invested in the Burner lifestyle there is a concern that there will be more aggression threatening otherwise very vulnerable people at Burning Man in 2012.

Vulnerable means EVERYONE! Although we talked about women for the most part, we also talked about our drag queens and trans-gendered people.

At Burning Man many of us have come to feel we live in a place called Home. It is a place where we have learned to drop our guard. Our guard, walls, shields, anxiety protect us from the harsh realities of the default world. The dog eat dog of society where live 52 weeks a year versus where we are thinking about gifting and hugging everyone we meet is something very special.

Many of us might be physically vulnerable, but if impaired and unable to protect oneself, it is even more important to rally each other and always travel in groups.

Why this level of concern? And is Burning Man listening to OUR concerns? I brought this to Burning Man as OUR main concern as it was related during the QBLS.

  • I wrote a report on the QBLS that got noticed and started a dialog. On the private Regional Contact list the topic started to get some serious attention but it devolved into something of a joke among the R.C.’s and this was confirmed by a Meta-Regional as well as other R.C.’s who are active on the list.
  • In a main hall discussion I asked about steps Burning Man would take to help assure personal safety. As usual I was shut down very fast by Andie Grace (aka ActionGrl) when she said: “Everyone attending Burning Man is responsible for their own safety“. And there it died for the day on Saturday. In the main hall this was not a place to chose a battle.

Many more Regionals were genuinely concerned about this subject and were shocked that there was a severe enough issue. Females knew there was a problem especially around Critical Tits and have been vocal.

When I spoke up in the main hall I was trying to channel words spoken by Foxy, Shayna and Kitten; they brought the most real light to the discussion during the QBLS.

The Regional Coordinators (BMHQ) have been incredibly resistant to the idea of any official representation for the Queer Burner Community. Frankly, I am not sure we need our own R.C., but when I discover some of the dialog that has taken place away from the community at large I feel deeply troubled about it.

In the end… Yes, we are all responsible for our own safety so we have to work together to make sure we have safety valves in place for ourselves. It made me smile to talk about the Drag Queens, Drag Kings and Bull Horn use employed by some camps as a great way to defuse situations. Humor and being vigilant is the key and we can help each other with that.

Instead of a response that acknowledged the concern or worry that has been echoed by many of the female population out there already the response was very cold and concise. She called me out by my default world name so she knows WHO I am . I AM not anyone special, but I have been a voice for a long time and sometimes the occasional thorn. However, I sincerely wonder if the question had come from any of the heterosexual women in that audience would we have seen the same kind of response either by delivery (tone) or maybe got a bit more consideration. My question was this:

“With the influx of so many people who are not familiar with the Burning Man culture and lifestyle expected at Burning Man in 2012; is there any plan to increase security for personal safety?”

Maybe from that alone you can see WHY I got the answer I did get?I did have a chance to revisit it through various workshops on Sunday and heard from people more one on one but time will tell how it all sorts itself out.

Queer Burners

There was a perception in some cases that the entity Queer Burners itself was our way of being separate from the BRC community. And it is not unnoticed (in perception only!) that it seems like other Burners and BMHQ perceive us as if WE are asking for some kind of special treatment from Burning Man.

Queer Burners the Community and Burning Man

I described QueerBurners.Com (aka as a social network for burners of a like mind can come together and find resources within the queer culture inside the community of Burning Man. We are a community as much as Oakland is a community as much as Austin, Texas is a community and we seek each other out for safety, for comfort and for support.

In fact, I also described my experience with the Burner Community in Las Vegas as a community that was very well integrated. Queers blended right in with everyone else and it works pretty much that way in almost every community out there; Burner specific. I was very proud to be a leader in that community. But since then I moved to San Francisco and it plays out very differently here.

In the 9 months I have been here the Decompression is where I witnessed groups blending. There was something called Rites of Massive out on Treasure Island where I was happy to see some more sharing of space among people of various origins.

Personal Note: This might be a time to do some reflection and evaluation. For me, Toaster, I have taken my own position on this relationship with BMHQ. My impression and perception is based on some interesting experiences with Marion and Megs while I was being considered for an R.C. role in Vegas last year. It may have tarnished something in my eyes or jaded my faith.

I could easily say… they don’t get it. BUT! I would be partially wrong. Queers in the Burning Man culture have our own unique and applied perspective just like ALL the others; speaking of geographical regions because we are also a part of those. The irony is that this organization came out of the gayest city of the nation and cannot see the unique puzzle piece like us; it’s pink and covered with glitter and feathers.

Not Burning Man’s Fault

With a lot of listening and absorbing we have to fight for our own place in the sun and not look to Burning Man to fertilize that. Communities, camps and other entities in Burning Man are doing it on their own. Maybe this is a case of Burning Man helping those who help themselves.

I have been looking at Burning Man leadership for a sense of acknowledgement and approval and they are looking up higher in their growing tree and so far I (ME) am that termite that passes in their line of site once in a while.

In the opening of this report I said I was reaching in while Burning Man was reaching out to things past me. I am swimming against the current and risked putting everything in jeopardy for this project in spite of what I was building until this weekend.

We have an opportunity here that is being handed to us and it came from this summit with a gold tray beneath it. We have a tool we can all be a part of, build from, and in turn give back to Burning Man in a way that helps their mission and puts our community in a better position.

At the 2012 QBLS one of the agenda items was the Queer Burner Fund, LLC. We make this a reality and take a step back from wearing a Burning Man label like the word “Burners”. We define our own structure and resources that we can use to help each other raise funds, conduct community projects and provide grants to the community. More to come… so watch out for this one!


It was 3 days of recharging. 185 people went to get their kool-aide containers refilled and we heard about HOW the Burning Man Project is taking on a whole new identity. Burning Man, the event in the desert, has manifested into something else.

Burners seem to hate change, but we embrace it once we get past the lumps. WE, as a community, have to unite and grow with the changing face of what we love. WE need to reflect what is going on around us.

It is, at its core, the same thing we grew to love. Yet this monster sheds its skin and hisses once in a while , it bites, but WE (ALL BURNERS irregardless of identity) rally and find strength in what makes some flake away making way for new.


Authors note: I am Toaster, aka Scott, and have had a strange upbringing in this community. Once upon a time I was going to be an R.C. in Vegas and had some pretty terrible problems with another R.C. and a Community Leader who was a lot more old school Burner than I, which there is nothing wrong with. We tangled over an issue and both had strong opinions on it and it spilled over into the community of Las Vegas at large. BMHQ came in to actively mediate the issue, but there was a point where they gave up. I was told, you guys need to resolve your own problems. Again, I hated the answer but it was true. Out of that, although it may not sound like it, I came to have some expectations out BMHQ that were completely unrealistic. Never has Radical Self Reliance hit me in the face with more frequency than anything else; you would think I would finally get it. Well, I learned a lot this weekend. I hope you will join me on this journey and take some of the ownership of what this project (Queer Burner Project) is and help make it something more grand.

3 thoughts on “Report: Burning Man Leadership Summit 2012”

  1. I was wondering, in recent years do you know of any safety issues that have arisen because of someone’s LGBTQ status? Is there a history of safety issues for LGBTQ folks?

  2. Tim… did you ever get any feedback on your question? From the feedback I got at the Queer Burner Leadership Summit there is a real concern. There is only bigger concern and that is the 2012 event where it is estimated 70% of the attendees will have never been a part of the culture before; not an appetizing thought on some levels but there is a greater danger to people who are probably more vulnerable there. Vulnerability comes when people used to the culture have lowered their defenses with people who do not quite respect that. Love & Light

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