Friday, June 18, 1999

International Mr. Leather 1999: Big Weekend—Small World

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #106, June 18, 1999)

PHOTO: Left to right: IML ’99 first runner-up Sean Reilly; International Mr. Leather 1999 Bruce Chopnik; and IML ’99 second runner-up Mike Hargiss.

According to the City of Chicago, the International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest attracts 7,500 people to Chicago every year and pumps $20 million into the city’s economy. Every year I contribute a small share of that $20 million, and every year I feel like I get my money’s worth and then some. This year was no different. The lobby of the Congress Hotel, headquarters for the weekend, became the world’s biggest and best leather (and cigar) bar, and the rest of the hotel was also quite active.

The action started Friday night when the audience and judges saw all 52 contestants for the first time. They were introduced by the weekend’s emcees, Frank Nowicki and Queen Cougar. Saturday night was the physique pre-judging, in which the contestants wore as little as possible as creatively as possible—two contestants came out brandishing cans of Crisco, and one hopped out on stage mummified in a leather pride flag made of Saran Wrap.

The main event, Sunday night’s contest, saw all 52 contestants parade proudly across the stage before the twenty semi-finalists were announced. (Congratulations to Mr. Minnesota Leather Joshua Smith for being one of them!) These twenty semi-finalists each presented a 90-second speech and went through another round of physique judging (also known as the “jock walk”). Then IML 1998 Tony Mills took the stage for one last time before passing the sash to his successor.

While the judges’ scores were being tallied the crowd was entertained by Erin Hamilton, a talented singer whose mother is actress/comedienne Carol Burnett. Ms. Hamilton, appropriately dressed in a skin-tight latex dress, started with her new high-energy dance single, “Satisfied,” and also performed her first hit, “Dream Weaver.” The crowd loved her and was very definitely “satisfied.”

When Tony Mills won the IML title in 1998 it hearkened back to the 1997 IML contest when Minnesota’s own Kevin Cwayna won the title—both Cwayna and Mills are medical doctors. This year’s contest also hearkened back to 1997 in two ways. That year the first runner-up, Mark Malan, was sponsored by Piston’s Bar in Long Beach, California. This year’s first runner up, Sean Reilly, was sponsored by the same bar. (This year’s second runner-up, Mike Hargiss, is from San Diego.)

Another coincidence: in 1997, Cwayna’s speech ran long and his microphone was turned off in mid-sentence, which in prior years would have ruined his chances of winning. Cwayna won the IML title anyway. This year Mr. Rocky Mountain Leather Bruce Chopnik told an enthralled audience where he was the day of the Columbine school shootings—he was working with the mayor of Denver and 475 other people at a conference of mayors from around the nation. In mid-speech, just as he was getting to the good part, he ran over 90 seconds and the microphone went dead. But, again, it didn’t matter—Bruce Chopnik is the new International Mr. Leather.

More coincidences: Second runner-up Hargiss previously lived in Denver and therefore knew winner Chopnik prior to the contest weekend. And Chopnik previously lived in Long Beach, where he was friends with first runner-up Reilly (they both enjoyed country dancing at a bar in Long Beach called Floyd’s). Small world, isn’t it?

And it gets even smaller. If you live in the Twin Cities and think this guy Chopnik looks familiar, it might be because he lived here in 1994 and 1995. He was director of operations for RSVP Cruises and was fond of two-stepping at The Town House. (He sends his regards to “Charlie Rounds and the boys at RSVP.”)

This year’s judges were Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski; outgoing IML Tony Mills; leather writer and titleholder Don Bastian; legendary whipmaster Fred Katz; International Mr. Drummer 1993 Graylin Thornton; International slave 1995 Tom Stice; award-winning leather columnist “Mr. Marcus” Hernandez; Seattle attorney Spencer Bergstedt (who in a past life won the title of International Ms. Leather 1994); and noted writer and publisher Tony DeBlase, who ten years ago created the leather pride flag. As part of Sunday night’s contest proceedings DeBlase donated the original prototype leather pride flag to the Leather Archives & Museum (all together now: “located in Chicago and serving the world.”)

Actually, the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) had a pretty good weekend, raising over $60,000 from donations at the contest, and from a silent auction and a sale of pre-viewed porn videos. Just in time, too, because at Sunday night’s contest an announcement was made regarding the possibility of purchasing a building to give the LA&M proper display space. (Interesting sidenote, presented without comment: Somebody told me the building they’re considering has been previously used as a church.)

The International Mr. Leather contest was not the only contest of the weekend. Ariq Robinson, who was International Mr. Fantasy 1997, won the title of Mr. Ebony in Leather 1999. This year’s International Mr. Bootblack competition was won by Robert Ehrlich Jr.; first runner-up was Fred Michmershuizen and second runner-up was Paul Eugen Frazier III.

At the conclusion of the weekend, IML Executive Producer Chuck Renslow announced plans for upgraded IML host hotels in future years: in 2001 IML’s host hotel will be Chicago’s famous Palmer House, and the host hotel for 2002 is the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Next year’s IML 2000 weekend will therefore be the last (at least for awhile) to be headquartered at the Congress Hotel. Listen up: Right now is not too early to make room and contest package reservations for next year. You can see more coverage of this year’s weekend, as well as details about next year’s, at

Minnesota Leather Pride Booth at Twin Cities Festival of Pride

On Saturday and Sunday, June 26 and 27, be sure to visit the Leather Community booth while you’re at the Twin Cities Festival of Pride in Loring Park. You’ll find representatives from local leather organizations, and maybe even a titleholder or two, as well as informational literature. Check this issue’s Out & About Calendar for information on all the other 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride events.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Friday, June 18

Regional Drummer Contest Meet & Greet Party
8:30 PM-3 AM (no liquor after 1 AM), Club Metro, St. Paul
Tonight, in addition to the meet & greet, will be the opening comments and erotic-wear competition. $7 at the door. Call for more information call.

Saturday, June 19

Capitol City Pride Motorcycle Run
Arriving at Mears Park in St. Paul around 3 PM
If you’re at Capitol City Pride and you hear a sudden roar of motorcycle engines, you know the bikers have arrived. Come on over and say hello.

Saturday, June 19

Regional Drummer Contest & Show
Doors open 8 PM, Contest at 9 PM, Club Metro, St. Paul
Tonight: Contestant speeches and fantasy presentations. Entertainment by Mercury Records recording artists Men Out Loud and Gary Aldrich of the Metropolitan Opera Company. $10 at the door. Call for more information.

Friday, June 25

Minnesota Leather Pride/NSGRA Beer Bust
8-11 PM, The Town House, St. Paul
The kickoff event for Minnesota Leather Pride 1999. All proceeds benefit the North Star Gay Rodeo Association (NSGRA). Free beer and sodas, bootblacking available. $5 at the door. This is your first chance to get your 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag ($5, or $4 if you’re wearing a 1999 Twin Cities Festival of Pride button). Dogtags will be available at all Minnesota Leather Pride events and are good for reduced admission to other 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride events.

Friday, June 25

Minnesota Leather Pride DJ Dance Party
9 PM-closing, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
The Big Top returns! Big Top cover $5 ($3 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag).

Saturday, June 26

Minnesota Leather Pride DJ Dance Party
9 PM-closing, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
Haircuts by Vince, bootblack on duty. Big Top cover $7 ($5 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag).

Sunday, June 27

Twin Cities Festival of Pride Parade
Assemble at 3rd St. and Portland Ave., downtown Minneapolis, between 9:30 and 10 AM. Parade steps off at 11 AM.
All clubs, club members, titleholders past and present, and GDI’s in the Upper Midwest are invited (bring your club colors and regalia). Help carry the largest Leather Pride flag ever built in the U.S. (50’ x 75’).

Sunday, June 27

Minnesota Leather Pride Barbeque
4-9 PM, under the Big Top at The Minneapolis Eagle
All-you-can-eat barbeque ($7, or $5 with 1999 Minnesota Leather Pride dogtag). Optional beer bust ($7). Bullwhip demo and game—see a master crack the whip, then try it yourself. Titleholder dunk tank. Bootblack on duty. The place to be after marching in the Pride Parade.

No comments:

Post a Comment