Friday, June 15, 2001

High Holy Days—A Multicultural Odyssey

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #158, June 15, 2001)

As I write this I have just returned from the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest in Chicago. Last year, contest founder Chuck Renslow called IML “the high holy days of the leather community.” I am now looking forward to two more High Holy Day-type events, the Twin Cities GLBT Festival of Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride.

I recently saw a poster called the “2001 Chronology of World Cultural Events” which is currently on employee bulletin boards at many of Minnesota’s best-known corporate offices. Produced by the Minnesota Cultural Diversity Center, this worldwide listing of celebrations and festivals is culturally diverse enough to include the fact that June is Gay Pride Month in the U.S.A.

Every culture has High Holy Days. Although the word “holy” connotes religion, even cultures that don’t revolve around an organized religion have some form of High Holy Days. For instance, Jews observe Passover to remember and celebrate their escape from the oppression of slavery in ancient Egypt. For Christians, Easter takes the Passover metaphor and extends it to humankind’s emancipation from the oppression of sin and death, as symbolized by Jesus’ resurrection. American blacks remember and celebrate their emancipation from slavery during Juneteenth. Americans celebrate the anniversary of their independence from England on July 4. Mexican Independence Day is Cinco de Mayo (May 5). And gay pride festivals everywhere commemorate 1969’s Stonewall Rebellion and the birth of the modern GLBT-rights movement. One might say Stonewall was the start of the GLBT community’s own exodus out of the oppression of the closet.

Other holidays (a word derived from “holy days”) commemorate leaders and heroes. Christians celebrate Christmas as the anniversary of Christ’s birth. U.S. government holidays celebrate great civic leaders: Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King. St. Patrick’s Day began as a Catholic feast day for the patron saint of Ireland (although nowadays it might as well be called Irish Pride Day). And the International Mr. Leather contest is about selecting the leather community’s leader and spokesman for the next year.

It’s interesting to note that the International Mr. Leather contest always takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) is the U.S. holiday set aside for remembering and honoring soldiers who have died in war. But the day takes on added significance for the leather community as we remember all the community members we’ve lost to AIDS—especially this year, as the community mourned the passing of one of its giants, Tony DeBlase. A signboard on a restaurant across the street from this year’s IML host hotel proclaimed “Remember our fallen heroes!” Wow, I thought to myself, it’s great that they put that sign up for all of us attending IML. Then I realized that they were talking about America’s fallen war heroes, not about the leather community. Well, I thought, they can interpret it their way and we’ll interpret it our way.

Although we sometimes don’t want to admit it, we humans are more alike than different. Humans of all cultures have the same needs and impulses, which are expressed in ways that are often remarkably similar (see chart, “Handy Multicultural Guide to High Holy Days”).

What do we do on High Holy Days? We remember our struggles and sacrifices, and we celebrate our victories. We celebrate in every way possible, because every culture appreciates a good excuse for a party. We don our most festive clothes. We prepare special foods. We make pilgrimages. We have parades. We make speeches. We have special entertainment. We greet each other with special greetings of the day. We reaffirm and reinforce our values. We expend time and effort beforehand planning and preparing; afterwards we feel gratified, ready to let our regular, “normal” life continue.

And always, as the Thanksgiving hymn goes, we gather together. Sometimes we travel great distances to be with our family or our tribe. We see people who we may not see any other time of year, whether that means running into someone in Loring Park at Pride, getting reacquainted with someone from another city at IML, or shaking hands with someone who only attends church services on Christmas and Easter.

All cultures and communities have High Holy Days because all cultures and communities need them. This year, as you enjoy GLBT Pride and Leather Pride, remember that these are our High Holy Days—they belong to us. Happy Pride, everybody!

WEB EXTRA: International Mr. Leather Contest 2001

Stefan Mueller, Bavarian Mr. Leather 2001, was recently chosen International Mr. Leather 2001, winning over a field of 63 contestants from 7 countries. Darrell Moyers, Mr. DC Eagle 2001 was selected first runner-up; Mr. San Francisco Leather 2001 Houston Davenport took second runner-up honors. For complete coverage of IML 2001 visit the Lavender Magazine website at

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, June 17, 6-10 PM: Daddy’s Day Picnic with special appearance by porn star Bobby Blake. Free food, cheap tap beer and soda. $5 at the door ($4 with 2001 Twin Cities GLBT Pride button). As the kick-off to this year’s Leather Pride celebration this will be your first opportunity to get your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag.

Friday, June 22: Come get a Great Big Bear Hug at the Bear Beer Bust at Trikkx (St. Paul). 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtags will be available.

Friday, June 22, 9-12 PM: Scorch Friday Night at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here.

Saturday, June 23, 9-12 PM: Scorch Saturday Night at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here.

Sunday, June 24, 11 AM, 3rd & Hennepin: Twin Cities Pride Parade steps off. Come help carry the Giant Leather Flag (be there by 10:30 AM).

Sunday afternoon, June 24: Scorch Sunday at the Minneapolis Eagle. $1 off entry with your 2001 Minnesota Leather Pride Dogtag, or buy one here—LAST CHANCE!.

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