Friday, July 28, 2000

Bootblacks: Unsung Leather Community Heroes

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #135, July 28, 2000)

PHOTO: 2057.JPG Contestants for International Mr. Bootblack 2000.

PHOTO: 2042.JPG The new International Mr. Bootblack 2000, David Hawks.

Where would we in the leather community be without bootblacks? We’d be in scuffed, dull-looking boots, that’s where. Bootblacks are too often among the leather community’s unsung heroes. Even though they have their own titleholders (International Mr. Bootblack and International Ms. Bootblack), their contests are held in conjunction with (and are usually overshadowed by) the International Mr. Leather and International Ms. Leather contests. Most of the bootblacks I know don’t mind being overshadowed, though, and that humility is one of the reasons they tend to be such nice people.

The Contest

This year marked the eighth annual bootblack competition held in conjunction with the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago. Until last year the title was International Bootblack and the contest was open to all genders, but with last year’s establishment of the International Ms. Bootblack contest as part of the International Ms. Leather (IMsL) competition, the IML bootblack competition was renamed International Mr. Bootblack.

The presentation of this year’s Bootblack awards was emceed by International Mr. Bootblack 1999 Robert Ehrlich. Before presenting the award he announced that the Mid-Atlantic Bootblack competition (held in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend in January 2000) was the first bootblack contest to combine ballots and judging. (Traditionally bootblack competitions have been based on ballots alone—the winner is the bootblack who shines the most boots and therefore gets the most votes.) For Mid-Atlantic Bootblack 2000 some of the finest bootblacks in the country were judges, including International Mr. Bootblack 1998 Matthew Duncan, International Ms. Bootblack 1999 Leslie Anderson, and Mid-Atlantic Bootblack 1999 Ms. Tracy Black. The judging was done in four categories, including physical skills, social skills, general knowledge and presentation. Ehrlich said the contest was received very well by everyone, most importantly by the bootblack contestants themselves. Ehrlich further stated that starting in 2001, International Mr. Bootblack and International Ms. Bootblack will be incorporating a new system including ballots and judging.

The awards for International Mr. Bootblack 2000 were presented by the first-ever International Ms. Bootblack, Leslie Anderson. The contestants were Gregory Yort of Decatur, IL (sponsored by the Flashback Lounge); Boo-Boo of Cleveland, OH (sponsored by Laws Leather/The Tool Shed); David Hawks of Richmond, VA (sponsored by Centaur MC of Washington, DC and the Richmond Leather Club); Gregory Hansord of Taylor, MI (sponsored by R&R Saloon and Mr. Leather Michigan); and Eric Leiff of Philadelphia, PA (sponsored by Fetishes Boutique).

The first award presented was the Bootblack Brotherhood Award; the winner was chosen by the contestants themselves and went to the contestant who best represented the spirit of brotherhood. It was awarded to David Hawks. Presentation of this award was followed by the announcement and presentation of the International Mr. Bootblack awards: second runner-up, Eric Leiff; first runner-up: Boo-Boo; and the new International Mr. Bootblack 2000, David Hawks.

Meet David Hawks, International Mr. Bootblack 2000

Here’s what Hawks had to say the next day about why he is a bootblack and what he hopes to accomplish with his title:

“I polish boots mainly for myself. It reminds me of my place, and helps keep me in focus on what’s important in life. When I polish boots, people open up to me in a way that they typically don’t when they stand in a bar and stare at each other, wanting to talk but don’t, and I meet people on a deeper level. So in my way, I hope to affect everyone I touch and help them see the important things in life—that all we really have are the people in our lives.

“Traditionally bootblacks are around, but they’ve been little-noticed. We’re in a dark corner of a bar, and we do our thing. [Some] people that get into it get up in our chair and have a good time, and everyone else goes on about their evening. [But] it’s much more than just getting a boot shine. My job is to go out there and try to get people to see that—to stop just walking by, and to actually meet some of us and see what we do and why we do it.

“I have already as Mid-Atlantic Bootblack been doing that. I give demonstrations and lectures and am quite overwhelmed at the number of groups that have come to me wanting [lectures or demonstrations]. The first one that approached me, in all honesty I thought “What a lame evening, they’re going to watch someone polish boots all night.” But they truly enjoyed it, and I was barraged by e-mail. So I will keep personally going out and trying to reach the community. I’m available to anyone who needs me for any event. I never charge for my services.

“That’s what I’m going to do—keep shining boots.”

Event Updates: International Drummer (St. Petersburg, FL) and Folsom Street Fair (San Francisco, CA)

Autumn used to be a time for leatherfolk to travel to San Francisco to experience two amazing events in one weekend: the International Drummer Contest and the Folsom Street Fair. This fall the two events are in different cities and on different weekends.

International Drummer/drummerboy 2000 is taking place September 14-17 at the Suncoast Resort in St. Petersburg, FL. At this writing the Suncoast is completely sold out; three other hotels are being used for Drummer accommodations, so you should still be able to find a room for the weekend—but make your reservations soon. For more information visit

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, this year’s Folsom Street Fair is Sunday, Sept. 24 and represents the finale of San Francisco’s Leather Pride Week. The week-long celebration begins Sunday, Sept. 17 with the annual Leather Pride Walk and continues with leather-themed events every night of the week including, this year, the International Mr. and Ms. Deaf Leather Contest on Saturday, Sept. 23. If you plan to be there and don’t already have reservations you should make them immediately. For more information visit

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