Friday, August 23, 2002

International Ms Leather Contest: At Home in Omaha

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #189, August 23, 2002)

The sixteenth edition of the International Ms Leather (IMsL) contest, along with the fifth edition of the International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB) contest, were held July 26-28 in Omaha, Neb. After being held in a different city every year since 1995, IMsL has officially settled down in Omaha, where its producer and much of its staff live. Host hotel and major stomping ground for the weekend was the Best Western Redick Plaza in downtown Omaha.

This year’s contest theme was “Rumble in the Jungle,” and the weather cooperated by being appropriately hot and steamy. (Producer Amy Marie Meek-DeJarlais was seen wearing a pith helmet and jungle-explorer garb for much of the weekend.)

The weekend’s events kicked off Friday evening when the contestants were introduced:

• Russ Cosgrove from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

• Lynda Elaine from Atlanta, Ga.

• Rebecca Harbert, Ms. Upper-Ohio Valley Leather;

• Lynn, sponsored by Different Strokes/Texas Leather Pride;

• Vendela Zane from Baltimore, Md.

• Bootblack contestant Kari LaVecchia, sponsored by Centaur MC, Washington, D.C.;

• Bootblack contestant slaveboi eddie from Los Angeles, Ca.

Each contestant had brought a goodie basket of leather-related merchandise to be sold at auction, with the proceeds going to the winners’ (IMsL and IMsBB) travel funds. Among the items contained in the baskets: several pieces of original art, a Power Puff Girls backpack, a leaded-stained-glass Rainbow Flag, and a complete scrotal inflation kit.

Saturday morning and afternoon were full of planned activities. In addition to shopping at the large Leather Vendor Fair, a full slate of educational seminars dealt with such topics as “Traveling With Your Toys,” “Playing With Knives” and “Sadistic Piercings” (“some simple, yet gratifying techniques to get the most pain from your pins. If you can’t get a rise out of your bottom after inflicting these tortures, she is made of sheet metal.”)

Saturday evening’s IMsL contest and show was held at the Club Joy, three blocks from the host hotel. Emcees Glenda Ryder from Baltimore and Connie from New York City kept things moving briskly, and the contestants’ fantasy performances connected well with the audience. Cosgrove performed a leather-discovery fantasy with the help of mentor and fellow Calgary resident Barry Gillardi. Lynn’s flogging fantasy, in which she flogged someone while also being flogged, moved the audience to enthusiastic applause.

Harbert’s fantasy featured the magical transformation of a frump into a leatherwoman. Zane’s cute golf-themed fantasy, in which she took revenge on a golfer who forgot to yell “Fore!”, gave new meaning to the phrase “hole in one.”

Elaine, although not the Canadian contestant, played a Dudley Do-Right mountie who rescued the heroine tied to the train tracks (Tobin Brittain, American Leatherwoman 2002) from the clutches of an evil Snidely-Whiplash-type villain. Elaine was having so much fun fighting (and then topping) the villain that she almost forgot to remove Brittain from the tracks.

When it was time for her stepdown speech, IMsL 2001 Joni Perrie showed the same dignity and elegance she has shown all year as IMsL (and as Ms Olympus Leather 2000 before that). First she named and thanked people significant to her title year who could not be present that evening. Then, a list of people significant to her title year who were present that evening was read, and as each person came to the stage they were presented with a single long-stemmed red rose. Finally, surrounded by these members of her leather family, she removed her IMsL sash and donated it to the Leather Archives & Museum, handing it to LA&M representative Jon Krongard. It was one of the most moving leather titleholder stepdowns I’ve ever witnessed.

Finally it was time to sash the evening’s winners. A beaming grin came over LaVecchia’s face as she heard her name announced as the new International Ms Bootblack. Then the IMsL winners were announced: 2nd runner-up, Lynda Elaine; 1st runner-up, Rebecca Harbert; and the new International Ms Leather 2002, Russ Cosgrove—the first IMsL from outside the United States. (Producer Meek-DeJarlais was heard exulting, “It’s really an international title now!”)

After Sunday morning’s Victory Brunch I got a chance to talk to Cosgrove, whose head was still spinning. This was her first trip ever to the United States: “I’ve never been out of [Canada] for events or workshops or anything.” Now that she has the title, however, she plans to do a lot more traveling.

When asked why she wanted to be International Ms. Leather she responded, “Calgary is lacking female Leather representatives. Calgary also needs to see that there is more to the Leather lifestyle than what they see at home. Having a hometown girl come home with the title would do much to boost the community. As well, the larger community needs to be reminded that Canada does indeed have an active Leather community.” Now that she’s won the title, she told me, “I thought I’d grown this weekend, but I think by the end of my year it’s just going to be incredible. There’s so much to see out there, and now I’m going to be there to see it.”

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