Friday, March 26, 1999

Leather Pride Flag Turns 10!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #100, March 26, 1999)

Tenth Anniversary of Leather Pride Flag to be celebrated at International Mr. Leather ’99

GRAPHIC: Leather Pride Flag Blueprint

Believe it or not, the Leather Pride flag is 10 years old. This milestone in the community will be celebrated at this year’s International Mr. Leather contest, May 28-31 in Chicago. (Visit or call 1-800-545-6753 for more information about IML ’99.)

The flag was designed in 1989 by Tony DeBlase, a.k.a. Fledermaus, who at the time was the publisher of Drummer Magazine. Here, reprinted with permission, is an excerpt from an “Off The Top” editorial written by DeBlase. It appeared on page 4 of Drummer #131 (July 1989).

A Leather Pride Flag

The rainbow flag has become the symbol of Gay and Lesbian pride and I have been proud to wear it on my clothing, march behind it in parades, and hang it from my balcony. I was thrilled by the rainbow colored balloons used in the opening and closing ceremonies of Gay Games II and the spectacular rainbow of balloons that arched over the main stage at the G&L pride rally here in San Francisco a couple of years ago.

For the 20th anniversary of Stonewall I felt that the time was right for the Leather men and women who have been participating in these same parades and events more and more visibly in recent years, to have a similar simple, elegant banner that would serve as a symbol of their own identity and interests. I decided that calling a committee meeting to design it would be counterproductive, so I just did it. I consulted with most of the staff here at Drummer and some of their suggestions were incorporated. I do not expect this design to be the final form, but the basis from which a widely accepted banner will evolve.

A prototype was constructed and displayed at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago on May 28 [1989]. It seemed to be enthusiastically welcomed. I am having a few more flags manufactured. Drummer will be presenting one each to the Leather men and women of New York City and San Francisco. I have asked GMSMA to be the custodian of the former and The Society of Janus and The Outcasts to be the custodians of the latter. With luck both flags will be ready in time to be carried by the Leather contingents in each of these two major pride parades. Drummer will also donate flags to the National Leather Association and to Chicago Hellfire Club. Both of these are groups with which I have been intimately involved for quite some time and both host major events for the Leather and/or SM community.

The flag is composed of nine horizontal stripes of equal width. From the top, and from the bottom, the stripes alternate black and royal blue. The central stripe is white. In the upper left quadrant of the flag is a large red heart. I will leave it to the viewer to interpret the colors and symbols.

Desmodus Inc. [the publishers of Drummer] has a copyright on the design and anyone wishing to use it for purely commercial purposes must receive our written approval. However, we welcome members of the Leather/SM community to use the design for flags, banners, pins, T-shirts, printed material, etc. to be distributed free or sold at cost, or to be used for fund raising for not-for-profit causes that benefit leather men and women. No permission is required for these uses but we do ask that you inform us of the use and, where possible, send us samples.

We have had cloisonné pins made. These are about 1” wide and are available for $5 (plus $1.50 S&H) from the Sandmutopia Supply Co ... Photos of the flag at IML, and hopefully in the parades as well will be in Drummer 132.

Ten years later, writing in the Winter 98/99 edition of the Leather Archives & Museum’s newsletter, Tony DeBlase continues the story of the Leather Pride Flag. (The following is reprinted with permission from DeBlase and from Joseph Bean of the Leather Archives & Museum.)

“Initial reaction to the Leather Pride flag was mixed. Some, particularly on the east coast, reacted positively to the concept, but were quite concerned, some even offended, that I had not involved the community in helping to create the design. I emphatically did not want to have a design competition, in which each and every losing entry, and all of his/her friends, would oppose the winning entry. Nor did I want to have a design committee. Just selecting the members of such a committee was an invitation to the guillotine. Instead I decided to just go ahead with my design.

“I asked one of the staff members at Desmodus to translate my ideas into a drawing, which he did, with many alternatives. He did not like the design and thought that the heart was particularly trite. I did incorporate one of his recommendations, because he managed to convince me that it was an improvement on my original design, and I still agree that he was right on this. I originally had the central stripe red. But he pointed out that the tip of the red heart, bleeding into the red stripe, would not ‘read.’ I agreed and told him to change the central stripe to white. Though he recommended many others, that is the only change to my original concept that I accepted.

“Elsewhere the reactions were more positive. Susie Shepherd, who was International Ms Leather when I made my presentation in Chicago, phoned me shortly after I got back home and asked permission to make a flag for the Portland OR gay pride parade. Naturally I gave her permission and sent her a copy of the above editorial, along with the blueprint-like drawing of the flag that was included with it, and she had a flag made and it was carried in the Portland OR Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade a week before those similar celebrations in New York City and San Francisco.

“On the East Coast, the flag I donated to GMSMA was on the back of the Jeep carrying Guy Baldwin, the reigning IML, for much of the parade. I received a letter from Barry Douglas, the newly elected Chairman of GMSMA, dated June 27, 1989, thanking me for the gift, and telling me of the various conflicted reactions it had drawn. But he concludes by saying “We will keep the flag safe and bring it out for the appropriate events . . . .” The prototype is not seen on display in New York, but the acceptance of the design in NYC has yielded one of my favorite adaptations . . . described below.

“On the West Coast the flag was carried in the Pride day parade in San Francisco and then was prominently displayed in the Shotwell meeting space used both by the Society of Janus and the Outcasts. The Shotwell meeting house closed several years ago and the Outcasts disbanded a few years ago, so I was greatly relieved when a recent inquiry to the Society of Janus indicated that they still have the original flag I donated ten years ago. I agreed that the next time I am in San Francisco I will autograph the flag for them and they will enter it into their organizational archives.

“At Chicago Hellfire Club, the man in charge of Inferno refused to fly the flag in 1989 because it was “too controversial,” however, in 1990 it was flying in spite of his objections. And it has been visible there and at the CHC clubhouse ever since. NLA has displayed the flag proudly at every Living-In-Leather conference.

“The first adaptation of the flag to come to my attention was in December of 1989 when I found Christmas tree ornaments for sale at Worn Out West on Castro St. that were clear glass balls to which someone had applied strips of cloth in the flags’ colors around the diameter of the ornament, and added a tiny red heart on one side. Chuck Higgins, who was then Mr. SE Leather, was the first to wear the flag in any form other than a pin. He had it made as the back panel of his leather vest.

“In 1990 Laurie Lane of Leatherworld in Melbourne, Australia applied the southern cross constellation from the Australian flag to the Leather Pride flag to create a uniquely Australian version. And in 1991 the Melbourne Leathermen became the first organization to incorporate the leather pride flag design elements into their club colors. A few years later, TLFMC of Anchorage was the first of many organizations to use the flag’s stripes to fill in a state outline and use the heart as the marker for their city’s position in the state.

“In May of 1991, I was quite surprised, & pleased, to see that the International Mr. Leather sash had been made in the image of the flag. In October of that year a group of men from Toronto exhibited a huge Leather Pride Flag with a row of red maple leaves running through the white stripe. I am told that that flag still exists and is seen occasionally at events in Toronto, but apparently it is the only one ever made. I have also seen a version with the heart replaced by a red maple leaf.

“In the first few years following development of the flag a few people applied for a license to produce it commercially. One of the first was Chuck Higgins, who made bumper stickers. Lambda Rising requested rights to make decals. We sent them a contract and offered our usual licensing fee: $1 per year. They never bothered to respond, but did start producing a line of decals, pins, stickers and other leather pride flag items. John Ponce was one of the first to incorporate the design into fine jewelry. Some day I hope I can afford one of his beautiful rings with the ruby heart!

“Many people, particularly titleholders, began to use the flag on their business cards, on brochures, newsletters, web sites, and in other ways. Leathermakers sewed colored leather into back patches and back panels. And western style shirt makers created designs in fabric to truly wear the flag. I have seen the flag with the heart replaced by a red computer console used as the logo for a leather computer club and I have seen the heart replaced by a red roast turkey for a Thanksgiving invitation.

“I have seen the Flag crocheted into an afghan and knitted into Cock and Ball warmers (by IML [1994] Jeff Tucker’s mother!). I have seen it worked in rubber as a door mat, in chain, and in beads for all kinds of jewelry, and in colored ropes for bondage and in colored plastic tapes for a full-body mummification. I have seen it worked in leaded glass, candle wax, pebble mosaics, and cloisonné. I have seen it painted on a spare wheel cover on the back of a Jeep, as a hex symbol on the side of a Pennsylvania barn, and on a woman’s fingernails. I have seen it painted on human bodies, and I have seen it tattooed onto them as well.

“Other than the Christmas tree ornament, one of the first interpretations of the flag I saw was a huge flag composed of appropriately colored bandannas filling the window of a leather shop in San Francisco during Leather Pride week. One of my favorites is a T-shirt design suggesting the flag by depicting bandannas tied to the clothes line by one corner and hanging as stripes, with the red one knotted around a blue one. I love my Jeanette Heartwood buffalo flogger with its leather pride handle (Thank you Jeanette and Dale!) And the interpretation that still ranks very close to the top of my list of favorites is the logo used for the Leather Celebration during Stonewall 25 in New York City: the Manhattan skyline superimposed on the flag. I am delighted by each new interpretation I see.

“I thank you for your acceptance of the flag. I remain glad that I never have explained my reasons for the design elements. As I said in my original presentation, ‘I will leave it to the viewer to interpret the colors and symbols.‘ I have heard many wonderful interpretations over the past ten years. And all of them are much better than my original reasons! I am looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of the leather pride flag at International Mr. Leather, May 30, 1999, in Chicago.”

Mark Your Calendar

For events in the next two weeks, see the Out & About Calendar. Here are some other events planned for the weeks ahead:

April 11: Mr. and Ms. Minnesota Leather (Joshua Smith and Mario) present “Family Reunion,” a fundraiser for a variety of good causes. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this, so get it on your calendar now.

April 23-24: Minnesota Mr. Drummer and Drummerboy Contest weekend.

April 24: Atons Road Trip to the Cell Block in Chicago.

May 21-23: Knights of Leather present their Tournament 11 run. Watch your mail for a brochure or e-mail for more information. (Act quickly—you’ll save $20 if your registration is paid in full by April 10, 1999.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Friday, March 26

Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy Party Bus Bar Cruise
Leaves from The Minneapolis Eagle at 7 pm, returns around 11 pm
Space is limited but may still be available, so it may be worth a trip to the Eagle to check it out if you’re interested. $20 (included in weekend package).

Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy Dance Party
10 pm-closing, The Minneapolis Eagle (in the Big Top)
Dance to music by Savage Aural Hotbed and meet the weekend’s contestants and judges. $10 at the door (included in weekend package).

Saturday, March 27

Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy Contest and Show
The Minneapolis Eagle—Big Top opens at 8 pm, contest starts at 9 pm
You won’t want to miss this one—the staging will be spectacular and fast-paced. In addition to contestant fantasies, entertainment will include Savage Aural Hotbed and Ballet of the Dolls. The contest will be followed by the Fantasy Victory Party until closing. $15 at the door (included in weekend package). Call for more information about any Fantasy Weekend event.

Sunday, March 28

Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy Tea Dance
5-9 pm, The Minneapolis Eagle Big Top
$7 at the door (included in weekend package).

Sunday, March 28

Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy “End-Up” Party
9 pm-1 am, The Tank @ The Saloon

Saturday, April 3

Black Guard Fantasy Fling ’99
The Main Club, Superior, Wisconsin, 9 pm-close
Join titleholders and other leather community members as they journey to the Twin Ports to visit our northern friends.

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