(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #209, May 30, 2003)
“Daddy, where did the Minnesota leather scene come from?” Pull up a chair and Dad will take you through the history of leather in the Twin Cities and Minnesota year by year—more or less.
Before 1972: When I asked local leather pioneer Grant Tracy what the leather scene was like in the Twin Cities prior to 1972, he told me this: “There were no organized leather groups in the Twin Cities. There were always several people in leather at the old Sutton’s and on the fringes of the other regular bars. You’d go into a bar and there might be two or three guys wearing jeans and a t-shirt and a leather jacket. And then there would be guys from out of town, and you’d just run around and spend the weekend with them. But as far as places to go, there really weren’t any.”
1972: A truck driver from out of town convinces several other guys that they should all start a Twin Cities leather club. Things move quickly until the truck driver skips town with all the money from the club’s bank account. The remaining men decide that a leather club is still a good idea, but this time, according to Tracy, they “do it the right way, legally, with a charter.” Tracy and his lover David Berquam are among the men who sign the charter that establishes the Atons of Minneapolis. Later that year the club presents Aqua One, its first run.
1973: The members of the Atons find they can’t sustain the energy to present another run the next year.
1974: Atons membership dwindles, no one takes a leadership role, and for awhile it’s just guys hanging out in each other’s homes.
1975: In an effort to get more community involvement, the Atons open up their club meetings and hold a St. Patrick’s Day party that is open to the public.
1977: The Black Guard of Minneapolis, the area’s second leather club, is founded with six members. The new club helps the Atons present their Gopher III run.
1980: The Black Guard holds an Anniversary banquet at a restaurant called Richard’s. Fifteen people attend (including a female member named Nancy).
1981: Minneapolis sends two contestants to the International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest in Chicago, now in its third year. The Y’all Come Back Saloon sends Paul Fruehling, and local leather shop Goliath’s Leather Emporium sends Rick Bowler. Goliath’s also presents a leather fashion show at this year’s Black Guard anniversary banquet.
1982: IML contestants from Minnesota: Bob Bartels, “Mr. Leather Saloon,” representing the Y’all Come Back Saloon; Milo Smith, representing The Atons; Timothy Walloth, representing The Black Guard; and James Wells, “Minnesota Leatherman,” representing Goliath’s Leather Emporium. Also, The Black Guard presents its first Black Frost run.
1983: Kirk Soderholm represents The Black Guard in IML. Bob Jansen opens The Main Club in Superior, Wis., which will serve as an outstate outpost for the northern Minnesota leather community.
1985: The Knights of Leather, a women’s leather club, is founded in January with five charter members. Responding to the AIDS crisis, former Atons president George Moore holds the first local safe-sex seminar for the leather community.
1987: Bob Guttman represents the Atons in IML and attains the rank of semifinalist.
1988: Marcus Mack competes in IML as “Mr. Bottoms Up Leather/Levi ’87,” representing Bottoms Up Bar. He also attains the rank of semifinalist.
1989: The first Minnesota Leather Encounter (MLE) weekend is held in October. Saturday’s big event is the first-ever Mr. and Ms Minnesota Leather contests. Mark Cady wins the men’s title and competes in the 1990 IML contest, where he is a semifinalist. There are no women contestants and hence no women’s title is awarded.
1990: At the second MLE weekend, again in October, Dean Preston and PJ Knight are sashed as the new Mr. and Ms Minnesota Leather titleholders. Preston competes in IML 1991 while Knight competes in the 1991 International Ms Leather contest. Also, Pete LaSha is doing leather-community coverage for Gaze Magazine (Lavender’s forerunner).
1991: The last MLE weekend is held in October. Again, there is no women’s contest. Larry Patnoe wins the Mr. Minnesota Leather title and is a semifinalist in IML 1992. (J.D. Laufman is another Minnesota competitor in IML 1992.) Also, the Minnesota Leather Den, a second women’s leather club, is started.
1992: The Atons, Black Guard, Knights of Leather and Minnesota Leather Den cooperatively present the first-ever Leather Pride celebration the Sunday night of Pride weekend.
1993: Outpost 69, a short-lived St. Paul leather bar in the basement of Club Metro that is lit primarily by candles on the tables, is closed because people keep blowing out the candles (and then proceed to blow other things in the dark).
1995: It is the era of Sunday-afternoon leather fundraising events—some months there’s an event every Sunday. Future Lavender editor, the late Tim Lee, says some choice words about all these fundraisers in Issue #7 of his Demure Butchness zine: he touches off a round of leather-community discussion by describing them as “cookie-cutter.” He also questions the leather community’s acceptance and openness to younger people interested in leather. On a less controversial note, this year seems to be a time of new beginnings: TIES, the area’s first pansexual SM organization, publishes their first newsletter in May 1995 and holds their first monthly munch soon after. (TIES stands for “Tremendously Intense Erotic Situations.”) The Twin Cities Bondage Association is formed; it lasts about two years before being put on hiatus for lack of a hosting facility. Back in Black Leather (now Cellar Leather) starts selling by appointment only. And your humble columnist begins writing this column for the Twin Cities’ new GLBT publication Lavender Lifestyles.
1996: Back in Black Leather moves into the basement of Club Metro. The Twin Cities Bondage Association makes history at its “Camera Night” play party—the first time, as far as anyone had been able to determine, that images of a play party are simulcast over that new-fangled innovation, the World Wide Web. Sadly, the year ends tragically as The Main Club in Superior burns to the ground, killing two men.
1997: The Saloon opens The Tank, its Sunday-night leatherspace, in March. Club Metro institutes “Bootblack Leather Nite” on Thursdays. In May, Kevin Cwayna is the first man to bring the International Mr. Leather sash home to Minnesota. A new Main Club opens in Superior in July. SLAM (Sober Leather Association of Minnesota) forms. The Atons of Minneapolis holds its 25th Anniversary Run in September.
1998: The world’s largest leather-pride flag (as well as an equally big rainbow flag) make their initial appearance leading the Twin Cities Pride Parade. The Minneapolis Eagle opens its doors. The Twin Cities is home to another international titleholder as Thomas Smith wins the International Mr. Rubber 1999 title in Chicago.
1999: MSDB (“Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds”—read the initials backwards) is organized as a pansexual BDSM organization focusing on the presentation of training seminars and other educational events. Cori Ander brings yet another major title to the Twin Cities when she is named Ms. Olympus Leather 1999 in New Orleans.
2000: As part of the Midwestern LGBT College Conference, a “Coming to Terms with Radical Sex” seminar is held on the campus of St. Cloud State University; the topics are leather/SM and polyamory and the room is literally wall-to-wall people. It is the most popular breakout seminar of its time period and perhaps of the whole conference. Jazz Thomas, a/k/a Minneapolis resident David Coral, brings home the Mr. Olympus Leather 2000 sash to Minnesota. Queer Youth Exist is formed to act as “an education and safety group for youth under the age of 21 with an interest in BDSM, fetishism, or any queer or alternative culture.” (It is the Girl Scout Gold Award project of the group’s two creators.) In November, the Knights of Leather reorganizes as a pansexual leather club with seven charter members.
2001: MSDB presents its Dungeon 101 class, “Mistress Manners meets the Marquis de Sade.” Seminars are presented on dungeon etiquette and dungeon-master techniques. Also, The Cockpit Project opens, selling “luxury leather and latex.”
2002: The Black Guard celebrates its 25th anniversary, the Atons of Minneapolis celebrates its 30th. Rebecca Holmberg reprises her “Confessions of a Lesbian Dominatrix” stage presentation. The Twin City Riders, a gay motorcycle club, forms.
2003 so far: Pride Alive and the Minnesota AIDS Project sponsor a three-part leather discussion forum. Minneapolis Eagle owner Ed Hopkins opens a companion bar, The Bolt, next door. The first Spring Sting/Midwest Fetish Expo is held in April.
What’s next? Plans for this year’s Leather Pride festivities call for a kick-off event on Friday, June 20, followed by more than a week’s worth of activities leading up to the annual appearance (weather permitting) of the giant Leather Pride flag in the Twin Cities Pride Parade on June 29. Watch for further details, then come out and make some history of your own.