Friday, June 30, 2000

An Election-Year Fantasy

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #133, June 30, 2000)

“The reason we have [the International Mr. Leather] contest is not to establish a national leader. It’s not about choosing Bill Clinton — it’s about choosing Vanna White.”

Tony Mills, International Mr. Leather 1998, as quoted in POZ Magazine

Fair enough, Mr. Mills—although:

If we chose International Mr. Leather (IML) like we choose the president:

The Leather Journal would have more than enough advertising revenue from all the political ads. They could go back to being a magazine—a four-color glossy magazine. And they could publish weekly.

• Some of that advertising revenue would probably spill over to local publications as well. (What am I bid for the page opposite my column? I know the strings to pull to make sure you get it.)

• There would be only two candidates for International Mr. Leather, from the two major political parties: the Old Guard and the New Guard.

• Each leather voter would register to vote at their local leather bar, which would also be the polling place.

• International Mr. Leather would not be elected on a strict majority vote. The majority winner at each leather bar would get all of that bar’s electoral votes; some bars would be worth more than others. Each bar would then send a representative to the Leather Leadership Conference to formally cast that bar’s electoral votes and determine the new International Mr. Leather.

On the other hand, if we chose the President like we choose IML:

• It would be called the American Mr. President (AMP) contest. In spite of the efforts of Geraldine Ferraro and Liddy Dole, there would probably be no corresponding Ms. title.

• There would be no more four-year terms. The American Mr. President winner would be in office for only a year, and there would be no repeat titleholders. If he had something he wanted to accomplish, he would have to be snappy about it.

• There would be more than two candidates from which to choose. Bored with Gore? Don’t like Dubya? AMP would have room for Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Bill Bradley, John McCain . . . and even Jesse Ventura. Guaranteed variety—something for everyone’s taste.

• American Mr. President would be chosen each year in Chicago by a panel of judges. The American Mr. President contest (except for the interviews with the judges) would be televised on all the major networks so that all Americans could be inspired and entertained by the event, which is all it seems the majority of today’s American public wants. They would no longer be able to vote for the president, but many if not most Americans don’t vote now. (At least the American Mr. President contest would be televised—this year the major networks aren’t even bothering to televise the Republican and Democratic conventions. Instead they are leaving that chore to CNN.)

• The American Mr. President judging panel, nine wise elders of the community (otherwise known as the Supreme Court), would be entrusted with the task of choosing the man to lead the nation for the next year. The Supreme Court would be chosen every year as well, with no repeat judges. (Who would choose the Supreme Court each year? Well, whoever chooses the judges for IML seems to be doing a good job; let’s leave it to them.)

• The fact that the selection of American Mr. President would rest with only nine people would mean that polls and focus groups will be unnecessary, and there would be no huge expenditures for advertising. Which would mean no huge advertising budgets. Which would mean no fundraising, no fundraising scandals, no PACs or lobbyists. The American Mr. President candidates would be judged not by how much money they raised, or whether they said what they thought people wanted to hear. They would instead be judged on their character and record of service to their community.

• The position of Vice President would be replaced by the position of President’s Boy. He would be responsible for presiding over the Senate as well as White House bootblacking and other duties.

• During the contest each candidate would take a question at random from the audience and would have 90 seconds to answer the question before the microphone was turned off. Think about that while you’re watching the summer’s presidential debates.

• The winner of the American Mr. President contest would receive no compensation, only a travel fund. His reward for being American Mr. President would be the places he’d go, the people he’d meet, and the knowledge that he was able to be of service to his country.

• There would be one slight difference between International Mr. Leather and American Mr. President: The IML “physique” segment (also known as the “jock walk”) would have to be replaced with something else (a leather jock would not be flattering attire for most presidential candidates). And the American people know just what to replace it with, too. Since nowadays the #1-rated cable television shows all feature wrestling, that’s obviously what the public wants. Why not replace the jock walk with a presidential-candidate wrestling match? (The fact that Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura would be a shoo-in for this category has absolutely nothing to do with this suggestion.)

Now, on a serious note: This is an election year, and it’s an important one. Here’s what IML Founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow said from the stage of the recent International Mr. Leather contest:

“The next political party will most likely appoint judges to our Supreme Court. We must use our power to make sure that the next court is attuned to our needs.” Renslow expanded further on this theme the next day: “Right now I believe there are 23 federal judge vacancies open . . . I’m just worried that if we get an extremely conservative Congress, or a president who’s from the religious right, they’re going to appoint judges to that court—and I don’t mean just the Supreme Court, I mean district courts and any federal court—and the religious right is out, as I said last night, to annihilate us. . . . They’ve tried it in Washington, they’ve tried it in other places, and it hasn’t worked because they don’t have the power behind them. But if they ever get the power behind them, they will succeed. And I think it’s up to us to make damn sure that they don’t succeed.”

How do we do that? We vote. We vote intelligently. We pay attention to the candidates. We support candidates who support us, and we don’t support candidates who don’t support us. And we mobilize others to vote intelligently, too.

At times it’s tempting to say that none of it matters anyway because it’s “only politics,” and to tune it out. But we as a community can’t afford to do that this year.

Register Now for Atons Gopher XIV Run

Friday through Sunday, July 21-23, The Atons of Minneapolis present their Gopher XIV Run: The Legend of Paul Bunyan. The men of Paul’s lumber camp, deep in the Northwoods, invite you to join them for a celebration of summer. Live the life of a lumberjack or loggerjill for a weekend. Huge meals, gargantuan games, and stupendous parties (not to mention their infamous dungeon). For more information and a downloadable application form visit Or call the Atons HotLine or e-mail

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Leather/Levi Night
Saturday, July 8, Nora’s (3118 W. Lake St., Mpls.)
Presented by the Atons, open to all. Join other leatherfolk for dinner on the patio. Call the Atons HotLine for more information and to make reservations. Information is also available at the club’s website:

Friday, June 16, 2000

GLBT Pride, Leather Pride: Not Yet Obsolete

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

Because GLBT Pride is celebrated in the Twin Cities at the same time as Minnesota’s Leather Pride celebration, this is the time of year when I can be doubly proud—or maybe it’s Pride to the second power. But where did these pride celebrations come from, why are they necessary, and where are they going? Have they served their purpose? Is Pride becoming obsolete?

One thing that tends to make members of a minority band together as a group, and feel pride in that group identity, is the experience of being faced with oppression. History is filled with examples: The ancient Egyptians enslaved and oppressed the Jews, and before long—Exodus, Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the children of Israel to freedom. Early Christians were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. In more modern times, the Nazis hated the Jews so much that they tried to completely eradicate them.

Every American immigrant group in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Jews, Italians, Poles, Chinese, and so on—experienced some measure of oppression from the mostly WASP society of the time. Blacks were freed from slavery after the Civil War but still found themselves victims of massive oppression, which led to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s ( out of which came both the Women’s Lib and Gay Lib movements of the 1970’s).

What happened to all these groups and movements? Christians went from being a hated minority to, for much of the world anyway, the (sometimes hateful) majority. The experience of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps led to Zionism and a new Jewish identity, along with a determination to never forget what happened and to never let it happen again.

The Ellis Island immigrant groups of yesteryear have pretty much assimilated into the fabric of American society and have become today’s white Europeans at the top of the food chain. They are occasionally proud (as in “On St. Patrick’s Day, everybody’s Irish”) and for the most part are not too oppressed, unless one counts their fear of losing their dominant status to today’s immigrant groups—Hmong, Hispanics, East Indians, and people from the middle east, to name a few.

The civil rights movement of the 1960’s brought major positive changes for African-Americans, or at least for some of them. But there’s still much that needs to be done to improve their lot, and they’ll still be celebrating Juneteenth this year.

Whatever happened to Gay Lib? The movement broadened to include bisexuals and transgendered people along with gay men and lesbians and became the GLBT movement. At the same time, a gay men’s leather/SM community started coalescing; this community later broadened to include kinky lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, and even heterosexuals.

Neither GLBT people nor kinky people are geographic or ethnic nations—they are (sometimes overlapping) minority subsets of every society that has ever existed, and probably that ever will exist. But both communities, and the members of these communities, have experienced (and continue to experience) the same processes of oppression and liberation as the ethnic groups described above.

Oppression results from being hated, either by others or by oneself. To the extent I feel hated by others for being my kinky GLBT self, I am oppressed by them. To the extent I let them teach me to hate myself, what I am, and what I stand for, I oppress myself. Pride can be the first step out of such oppression, either for an individual or for a group. But this first step can be derailed by anger and hatred and a wish for vengeance against one’s oppressors. This is one of the justifications people use for fighting wars. It’s also why some gay people call heterosexuals “breeders.” These are both examples of how anger prolongs and intensifies oppression.

But if we are able to forgive those who formerly oppressed us, we no longer have to hate them. We focus instead on our gains—we make the mental shift from victims of oppression to survivors of oppression to victors over oppression. We are proud of our victory, and we savor it for awhile. Then life moves on, and our victory becomes a part of us—but only a part, a memory.

If part of my self-identity has been as part of an oppressed minority and I no longer feel oppressed, do I still feel like I belong to that group? If an entire group is so successful fighting oppression that none of the group feels oppressed, what’s left to unite the group? Does pride in belonging to that group become obsolete?

Maybe—but I don’t believe that either the GLBT community or the leather/SM community has yet reached that point. Both GLBT Pride and Leather Pride exist right now because enough people see a need for them and are willing to support, plan, and participate in them.

Yes, the nature of Pride celebrations is changing. The children of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island tended to be more assimilated into the dominant culture and therefore identified less as an oppressed group; the same thing is happening today with the children of Hmong and Hispanic immigrants. And so it is with the GLBT community; younger people who are coming out now weren’t even alive when the Stonewall riots happened—it’s history-book stuff to them. They have come of age in a time when there has been more openness and less oppression. Likewise, people who live in large urban areas, where life is good and there’s an atmosphere of acceptance, tend to forget that there are plenty of small towns where it’s not like that.

For all these reasons it makes sense that Pride celebrations have evolved from political demonstrations into “the gay State Fair.” Some people have almost entirely lost touch with the notion of oppression. They won’t be at Pride, or at least not this year—not until another Mathew Shepard or Billy Jack Gaither touches their lives. Then they’ll understand that, as long as there are hate crimes, there will be a need for public statements of pride.

As we continue to fight oppression we must also take care not to blindly oppress others, either in our own or in other communities. Some people find drag kings and queens and those in the leather/SM community an embarrassment and an inconvenience. They’re trying to fit in with the mainline, majority heterosexual community. Their argument is, “We’re just like you.” And then here come the drag kings and queens and the leather contingent in the pride parade, the Moral Majority’s cameras spring into action, and acceptance/assimilation is set back another few notches. Darn those people anyway.

Or maybe it’s leathermen (who constitute the vast majority of the GLBT leather/SM community) being insensitive to leatherwomen, or leather transpeople, or heterosexuals. Maybe it’s kinky heterosexuals being uncomfortable with gay men. Or maybe it’s the gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals not knowing what to do with those bisexual boundary-crossers.

We still need pride. But we don’t need the kind of pride that fosters an attitude of superiority, which leads to rudeness, inconsiderateness, anger or hate. How much better to feel the kind of pride that unites us—the kind we want to share and to pass on to others as a gift, so they also can be proud of who they are.

WEB EXTRA: International Mr. Leather Contest 2000

PHOTO: Contest producer Chuck Renslow (left) congratulates International Mr. Leather 2000 Mike Taylor of Cincinnati (right).

Mike Taylor, Mr. Heartland Leather 2000, was recently chosen International Mr. Leather 2000, winning over a field of 62 contestants from 7 countries. Scott Bloom, Mr. Pistons Leather 2000 from Long Beach, CA was selected first runner-up; Mr. Boston Leather 2000 Bob “Puppy” Pedder took second runner-up honors. For complete coverage of IML 2000 visit the Lavender Magazine website.

Leather Pride Events

GRAPHIC: The Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag will be available at all Minnesota Leather Pride events. Buy one for $5 (or $4 if you’re wearing this year’s Twin Cities Festival of Pride button) and get reduced admission to other Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 events.

This year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration features a full slate of events. Starting things off is the Daddy’s Day Picnic with porn star Drew Damon at The Saloon, 6-10 PM—show up and be one of the first to buy your collectible Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 Dogtag.

The action moves to the Minneapolis Eagle on Friday and Saturday evenings (June 23-24). Sunday afternoon (June 25) at the Eagle is the Leather Pride barbecue and beer bust—see the Out & About Calendar for complete details. Also on Saturday and Sunday, be sure to stop by the Leather Community booth at the Festival of Pride in Loring Park. On Sunday the community is invited to help carry the giant Leather Pride flag at the beginning of the Pride Parade (assemble at 10 AM on 3rd Street South between Hennepin and Nicollet—parade steps off at 11 AM).

The new Trident Minnesota leather club has also planned events for Thursday through Sunday (June 22-25); for more information visit their website at or e-mail them at

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Daddy’s Day at The Saloon
Sunday, June 18, 6-10 PM, The Saloon
The kickoff event for Minnesota Leather Pride 2000. Special appearance by porn star Drew Damon. Also free food and 75-cent tap beer and sodas, bootblack on duty, and spanking for the asking. $5 (or $3 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag) includes a shot.

Scorch Fireball at The Minneapolis Eagle
Friday, June 23, 9 PM-closing, The Minneapolis Eagle
$5 cover ($3 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Scorch Fireball at the Minneapolis Eagle
Saturday, June 24, 9 PM-closing, The Minneapolis Eagle
Leather barber Vince will be doing buzzcuts and bootblacking will be available. $7 cover ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Twin Cities Pride Parade: Help Carry the Giant Leather Flag
Sunday, June 25, assemble at 10 AM, parade steps off at 11 AM. Assemble at 3rd Street South between Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues
Leather barber Vince will be doing buzzcuts and bootblacking will be available. $7 cover ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag).

Scorch Fireball & Minnesota Leather Pride Celebration
Sunday, June 25, The Minneapolis Eagle. Minnesota Leather Pride Celebration 4-9 PM, Scorch Fireball continues until closing
Bootblacking will be available. All-you-can-eat barbecue $6 ($5 with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag), Beer Bust $7 (a great regular value). No cover with Minnesota Leather Pride 2000 dogtag; $5 cover without one.

Web Extra: IML Contests Speak Out About Leather and Domestic Abuse

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

PHOTO: 2016A.JPG Jeff Wacha


First it was IML 1998 Tony Mills speaking about being a survivor of domestic violence. Now two contestants from this year’s IML contest, Jeff Wacha of Los Angeles and Lance Gear of San Francisco, are on record as being domestic abuse survivors. Here are portions of their IML speeches:

Jeff Wacha: “I’d like to share with you just a few things that I’ve learned in the past year . . . I’ve learned that no matter how much you love someone, once they raise their hand against you in anger, you can never truly feel safe with them again. In my case it wasn’t a hand, it was a length of pipe that left me unconscious and with a concussion. There are other means—there’s verbal, there’s physical, and there’s mental. But it’s the same end result: You need to get out.”

Lance Gear: “I want to talk to you tonight about a subject that’s really close to my heart. I used to have a boyfriend who liked to hit me. Now, in our community, we can play a little rough sometimes, but hopefully we always remember that safe, sane, and consensual is our creed. But I am not talking about consensual activity here, and there was certainly nothing sane about it. And I’m here tonight to ask you to please, know enough to know the difference. And most importantly, if you find yourself in one of these relationships, love yourself enough to get the hell out. I stand here before you tonight, not as a victim, but as a survivor. And you know that little song, “If they could see me now”? Well, if he could see me now.

“You know, we as a community have a responsibility here too. If your blood brother or sister was being beaten and you knew about it, you would do something. Look around. These are your brothers and sisters. You need to do something. Do not wait until it’s too late if you know something is going on. Do it now, I beg of you.”

(A profile of IML 1998 Tony Mills that includes “Ties That Bind,” his article about domestic violence, is available on the web at

Web Extra: Joseph Bean Asks “Make the Effort” for the Leather Archives & Museum

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

Here are highlights of the speech by Joseph Bean, Executive Director of the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) at the IML 2000 contest.

“We have gone from representing about nine countries when I spoke to you last year to more than 30 this year. How many countries really have enough of a leather community to be contributing to a museum? Apparently, right now the number is about 30.

“And you guys are making them do it. We keep getting letters from people saying, ‘Someone from Ohio wrote to me, I’m here in Morocco, and I thought you’d like this.’ It happens, it happens all the time and it’s because of you.”

Last year Bean showed a picture of a building that could be a home for the Archives—“This year it’s a reality. Without you none of it would have ever happened. No government institution, no foundation, no public reservoir of money has been involved. Every penny that has made the Leather Archives & Museum happen has come out of the pockets of leatherfolk . . . .

“We mean it when we say we’re here, we’re here to stay, and you’ve gotta get used to us. The neighborhood we have moved into was an orthodox Jewish neighborhood not that long ago. And hey, we moved into their synagogue. They’ve not just gotten used to us, they’ve gotten to depend upon us, to help them with the gangs, with the drugs, with the appearance of the neighborhood—the point is, we have become good neighbors . . . .

“I’m dreaming of paying off the mortgage in 2004, which means you’re stuck with me for about four more years . . . We have the building, but that means we have a mortgage. And if we can pay it off in August, 2004—that’s not that far away, guys. Remember, I first dreamed of us owning a building in December, 1997. That was yesterday, barely. I announced the capital campaign to buy a building in January, 1998, imagining that it would take you guys ten years to buy us a building. Well, it took you less than a year and a half. You’d think that the geniuses of finance would live on Wall Street. Instead we live on Leather Street, U.S.A. . . .

“Let me make this real simple. If we pay off the mortgage by the refinance date in August 2004, you the community will save $813,000. That’s worth the effort. Make the effort.”

IML Producer Chuck Renslow says “VOTE!”

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)


Here’s what IML Founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow said as he welcomed the leather community to the IML 2000 contest on Sunday night:

“Here in the States we have an important election coming up. The next political party will most likely appoint judges to our Supreme Court. We must use our power to make sure that the next court is attuned to our needs. Believe me, the Republican religious right would love to see us annihilated. That’s not going to happen! You, me, all of us, we can make a difference. Get out in your communities and work. Don’t just listen to what I’m saying tonight and let it go in one ear and out the other—get back out there and work, because we can do it. Support the candidates of your choice. We are a force to be reckoned with—let’s use that power. And this applies to our friends from other countries, too: support those who support you. I can assure you, if we get out there and work, get our friends to work, and go back to our communities, we will succeed. The power of leather will triumph, I promise you!

“And incidentally, while you’re out there doing all this, don’t forget to have fun, because that’s what life is all about.”

Renslow expanded further on this theme at the IML Winners’ Press Conference on Monday:

“Right now I believe there are 23 federal judge vacancies open. Of course, the present administration won’t put a very conservative judge in there, and the present Congress won’t approve a judge unless he is conservative. They’re caught in a bind, and that’s got to change. I’m just worried that if we get an extremely conservative Congress, or a president who’s from the religious right, they’re going to appoint judges to that court—and I don’t mean just the Supreme Court, I mean district courts and any federal court—and the religious right is out, as I said last night, to annihilate us. There’s absolutely no question about that. They want to squash us. They’ve tried it in Washington, they’ve tried it in other places, and it hasn’t worked because they don’t have the power behind them. But if they ever get the power behind them, they will succeed. And I think it’s up to us to make damn sure that they don’t succeed?”

How do we do that? “Vote. Go back to your communities and get the people out to vote. As I’ve seen it, and I think AIDS has proved it, the first line of defense in public relations or doing anything in the entire gay community, has been the leather community, I think we’ve established that very well. I think there’s no reason why we can’t do the same here. Go back to our communities, get ’em going. Get people in line. If every person in this room gets three people’s minds changed, and those three people get three people, logarithmic progression—we’ll win. That’s how we do it. Too many times people say, “Oh, yeah, we gotta do that!” Then they go out to the gay bar and get drunk. That we cannot do. We’ve got to actively say ‘Yes, we’re going to go out and do it.’”

Web Extra: IML 2000 Weekend Emcees

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

PHOTO: 2036.JPG IML 2000 co-emcees Tom Stice, left, and Frank Nowicki, right.

Frank Nowicki

Frank Nowicki has made a career emceeing national, regional and local leather contests. Not counting his appearance as a past IML contestant, this year was Nowicki’s sixth appearance on the IML stage. He has also emceed the International Ms. Leather and International Mr. Drummer contests.

Tom Stice

Making his inaugural appearance on the IML stage was co-host Tom Stice, who holds the titles of Southeast Drummer 1998 and International slave 1995. He was Pantheon of Leather Readers’ Choice Man of the Year, and received the Southeast Region Award in 1998. He has facilitated a variety of workshops at leather events across the country and served on the executive committee for Southeast LeatherFest for the past five years. Tom owns and co-produces the International Master and slave contest, Southeast Drummer and Drummerboy, and the Ms. Leather Pride contest. He takes great pride in having been the recipient of the Atlanta Eagle’s community service award this year.

Web Extra: IML 2000 Judges

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

PHOTO: 2062.JPG The IML 2000 judges, from left: Marcus Hernandez, Llaugher Valentin, Jim Dohr, David Kloss, Amy Marie Meek, Eduardo Bettega Curial, Woody Bebout, Bruce Chopnik, and Thom Dombkowski.

Thom Dombkowski, IML Chief Judge

Co-founder of Chicago House, the Midwest’s first residency program for people living with AIDS, Thom went on to become a Program Director for the Chicago Department of Public Health, a position from which he retired in early 1999. He has spent the past year enjoying world travel visiting Great Britain, Argentina, Egypt, Antarctica, Texas, California and Washington, DC. For 20 years, he has served IML in a variety of roles including Charity Liaison, Press Coordinator, Judge Coordinator, Tallymaster, and, for the ninth year, is IML’s Chief Judge.

Bruce Chopnik, International Mr. Leather 1999

Bruce, from Denver, Colorado, was on the other side of the Judges’ table last year. He has since spent an active year as IML 1999 encouraging individuality/spirituality and growth within the gay and lesbian community at a local and national level, promoting education and awareness to gay youth, and establishing better and new community relationships between the gay community and corporate America. Bruce, the producer of the Rocky Mountain Leather 1999 Contest, has been officially honored or recognized by the following organizations for support and dedication to their causes: Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountain Empire, Human Rights Campaign Fund, Colorado AIDS Project, Mayor’s Gay and Lesbian Advisory Board, Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, Colorado Tavern Guide Association, Alexander Foundation, Colorado Legal Initiative (Amendment Two), Denver Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and LambdaCOM.

Woody Bebout, International Mr. Drummer 1991

In the words of Thom Dombkowski: “As 1991 International Mr. Drummer, he is the most eloquent man to ever hold a leather title anywhere in the world.” Woody holds the titles of International Mr. Drummer 1991-1992, Mr. St. Louis Leather Pride 1990, and Mr. Great Plains Drummer 1991. Woody has been active in numerous community and civic activities, including service as a Board member and President of St. Louis Effort for AIDS and the St. Louis Ryan White Title I Planning Council. His work on behalf of persons living with HIV and AIDS in the St. Louis area includes being a founding member of Food Outreach, which provides food and nutritional supplements, and being a current member of the Board of Directors of Doorways, an interfaith organization offering housing and housing assistance. He is an active parishioner and member of the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis. Woody is a partner in a St. Louis law firm, where he has practiced for the past sixteen years in the areas of commercial and business litigation. Woody rides a 1999 Honda Valkyrie and would like to tour the western U.S. and Canada in 2001. Housing opportunities are greatly appreciated!

Eduardo Bettega Curial, Owner, Argos Bar, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Eduardo is a driving force within the gay scene of Amsterdam. Since coming to Holland from his native Brazil, Eduardo turned from training for the diplomatic corps and began actively promoting gay events for the community. Easily recognizable by his swarthy looks and friendly manner, Eduardo was Tom’s Man IML in 1996. This is his second time on the judging panel for International Mr. Leather.

Jim Dohr, Chicago Leatherman

Jim has been a member of Chicago’s leather community since the late 1970s. He was instrumental in putting IML on the leather map during its formative years by serving as Weekend Coordinator and Associate Producer from 1980 through 1984. Jim was also the General Manager of the legendary Gold Coast, Chicago’s premier leather bar, from 1983 through 1985. Jim is currently a Public Health Administrator with the Chicago Department of Public Health division of STD/HIV/AIDS Public Policy and Programs. Additionally, he can be seen weekends on his knees giving good “customer service” at Male Hide’s Leather Cell at the Cell Block.

David Kloss, International Mr. Leather 1979

Thom Dombkowski introduced him as “the owner of the first red hanky ever created, the first International Mr. Leather and still the best-looking one of them all.” David Kloss, from San Francisco, was the first IML, reason enough to include him in this illustrious panel of judges. But in the intervening years David has distinguished himself not only as an exemplary and representative international titleholder, but also as a tireless and very personally involved advocate in all areas of AIDS treatment and prevention. David’s work career in the oil industry, was, like that of so many others, interrupted by AIDS, and he went on disability in 1991. He then began volunteering with community and AIDS organizations and, over the years, David has co-hosted numerous events and served in many capacities including: Administrator, board member and treasurer for the Assistance Fund of Houston; board member and treasurer of the HIV Wellness Center of Austin; volunteer for “Under One Roof” in San Francisco. David’s leather involvements include co-sponsorship of “Nights in Black Leather” (another AIDS fundraiser) and service as a Board Member for SMMILE in San Francisco (an umbrella group that works with organizations producing the Folsom Street Fair, Dore Alley Fair and the “South of Market Bare Chest Calendar” — which last year alone raised $215,000). David has extensive connections with the national leather community, served as Mr. San Francisco Leather in 1979, the very first IML, a judge for IML in 1980 and again in 1998. The loss of five partners and MANY friends, along with the fact that he, too, has been HIV+ for many years, has caused David to channel life in a manner geared and focused to help others who are living with AIDS. He and his partner, Gerald Pennington, live very happily in San Francisco.

Amy Marie Meek, Owner, Bare Images Productions

Amy Marie Meek, owner of Bare Images Production, Inc., is also the Executive Producer of the International Ms. Leather Contest Weekend, and holds the titles of International Ms. Leather 1993 and Ms. Leather Nebraska 1992. A long-time resident of Omaha, Nebraska, Amy has been an activist for many years. Among her contributions to our community are: serving on the steering committee for the 1993 March on Washington; being the first female judge for International Mr. Leather; founding the Omaha Players Club; presenting hordes of educational presentations, and winning the Reader’s Choice Pantheon Award in 1995. Despite having recently doubled her household (including humans, pets AND wardrobe), Amy is happy at home surfing eBay, taking care of IMsL, and planning for a future that includes a wedding and childcare. Amy is thrilled that the participation at each year’s International Ms. Leather grows larger and more diverse, and she invites all to join “Kinky” in Toronto in July 2000 as IMsL “goes International”!

Llaugher Valentin, Washington, DC

Long-time leather activist, Master Logger is a member of the Leather Community in body, mind, spirit and soul. A member of the Centaur Motorcycle Club, Logger is a staunch advocate of deaf leatherfolk and other leatherfolk with disabilities. Logger is a father to three children, Daddy to many boys, owner of several slaves and one Eunuch, and valued friend and mentor to many. He is also a piercer, interpreter, translator, government employee and all around OK guy.

Marcus Hernandez, IML Judge Emeritus

Hernandez, judging for his 20th year, was San Francisco’s First Emperor, a founding member of AIDS Emergency Fund and Operation Concern. Marcus is an award-winning leather columnist for the Bay Area Reporter. He was introduced by Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski thusly: “I really think it was Marcus that suggested to God in the first place that he actually create the cow so we could enjoy leather. And he was also a close personal friend of the serpent.”

Next Year’s Judges

Next year’s judges for IML 2001 are Thom Dombkowski, Marcus Hernandez, Washington DC community activist Jack McGeorge, president of GMSMA (New York’s Gay Male S/M Activists) Bob Pesche, American Leatherman 1997 Jim Raymond, the first International Mr. Deaf Leather Philip Corey, Australian leatherman Laurie Lane, and International Ms. Leather 1996 Jill Carter.

Web Extra: IML 2000 Contestants

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

Boldface = one of the Top 20 Finalists

1. Ric Sullivan * Mr. Northwoods 1999
Sponsor: Argonauts of Wisconsin * Green Bay, WI

2. Bob Guenther * Mr. Maryland Leather 2000
Sponsor: C.O.M.M.A.N.D. MC * Baltimore, MD


3. Steve Duvall * Mr. Ft. Lauderdale Eagle 2000
Sponsor: Ft. Lauderdale Eagle * Ft. Lauderdale, FL

4. Tony Frazier * Mr. Eagle PDX
Sponsor: The Eagle PDX * Portland, OR

5. Jimmy Lee Murray * Mr. North Atlantic 2000
Sponsor: Utica Tri’s MC / Networth / Positive Action Inc * Utica, NY


6. Ken Hauan * Mr. 501 Eagle 2000
Sponsor: 501 Eagle Club * Indianapolis, IN

7. T.C. Haskins * Mr. Triangle Denver 1999-2000
Sponsor: Triangle Denver * Denver, CO

8. Gaetan Roberge * Mr. Leather Montreal 2000
Sponsor: Mc. Faucon * Montreal, Quebec Canada

9. Douglas Bedard * Mr. Faultline Leather 2000
Sponsor: Faultline Bar * Los Angeles, CA

10. Todd Crutchfield * Mr. South Texas Leather 2000
Sponsor: Archangel * San Antonio, TX


11. Ted “Tedbear” Kuehner * Mr. Bullet Leather 2000
Sponsor: Bullet Bar * North Hollywood, CA

12. Buzzy Malinowski * Mr. Baltimore Eagle 2000
Sponsor: Baltimore Eagle * Baltimore, MD

13. Joe Harneft
Sponsor: Lube Ireland * Dublin, Ireland

14. Bruce Dandi Tidwell * Mr. Atlanta Eagle 1999
Sponsor: The Atlanta Eagle * Atlanta, GA

15. Terrell Brown * Oklahoma Mr. Leather 2000
Sponsor: T.U.L.S.A. (Tulsa Uniform and Leather Seekers Association) * Tulsa, OK

16. John Rossi * Mr. Leather Western Michigan 2000
Sponsor: Family Wear / Brothers Beta Club * Kalamazoo, MI

17. Peter Wallace * Mr. Leather Europe 1999
Sponsor: Scandinavian Leather Men Oslo * Oslo, Norway

18. David G. * Mr. Iowa Leather
Sponsor: The Blazing Saddle / Corn Haulers L&L Club of Iowa * Des Moines, IA

19. Tim * Rocky Mountain Mr. Leather 1999
Sponsor: Thunder in the Mountains * Denver, CO,

20. Thomas Kahn * Mr. Kentucky Leather 2000
Sponsor: Kentucky Leather Productions / The Phoenix * Lexington, KY

21. Christian Hermann * German Mr. Leather 2000
Sponsor: Berlin Leder und Fetisch E.V. * Berlin, Germany

22. Lee Wheeler * Mr. Michigan Leather 2000
Sponsor: The Back Door at City Limits * Grand Rapids, Ml

23. Earl Thomas * Mr. Suncoast Eagle 2000
Sponsor: Suncoast Resort Hotel * St. Petersburg, FL

24. Mark Cady * Mr. Philadelphia Leather 2000
Sponsor: The Bike Stop * Philadelphia, PA


25. Todd Leek * Mr. Minneapolis Eagle
Sponsor: Minneapolis Eagle * Minneapolis, MN

PHOTO: 2016.JPG From left: Bob “Puppy” Pedder, Craig West, Jeff Wacha, and Silver Wolf.

26. Bob “Puppy” Pedder * Mr. Boston Leather 2000 (and Second runner-up, IML 2000)
Sponsor: CRC Associates * Boston, MA

27. Craig West * Mr. Oregon Leather
Sponsor: Blackout Leather Productions * Portland, OR

28. Jeff Wacha * Mr. LA Leather 2000
Sponsor: Los Angeles Leather Coalition * Los Angeles, CA

29. Silver Wolf * Mr. Stage Door Leather 2000
Sponsor: Stage Door Lounge / Brotherhood of Bears, Inc. * Dayton, OH

30. Tim Craft * Mr. Wisconsin Leatherman 2000
Sponsor: Wisconsin Leatherman Productions * Milwaukee, WI


31. Christopher Chaput * Mr. Palm Springs Leather
Sponsor: Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert * Palm Springs, CA

32. John Lait * Mr. BC Leather 99
Sponsor: Q2 Productions * Vancouver, British Columbia

33. Rob Esmonde * Mr. Daddy’s Leather 2000
Sponsor: Daddy’s Bar * San Francisco, CA

34. Bob Hancock * Gotham Leatherman 2000

35. Mark lngham * Mr. Alameda County Leather 1999
Sponsor: Alameda County Leather Corps * Castro Valley, CA

PHOTO: 36. Mike Taylor * Mr. Heartland Leather 2000 (and now International Mr. Leather 2000)
Sponsor: Heartland Leather Productions / TriState Leather * Columbus / Cincinnati, OH

37. Gary Vandeventer * Mr. DC Eagle 2000
Sponsor: DC Eagle, Inc. * Washington, DC

38. Ariq Robinson * Mr. Ebony Leather 1999
Sponsor: Cain Berlinger * New York, NY

39. Stan Harrell * Master Of Leather 1999-2000
Sponsor: Leather Alternatives * Houston, TX

40. Terry Brown * Mr. Dixie Belle Leather 2000
Sponsor: DBWarehouse Complex / KC Pioneers / The Leather Shop * Kansas City, MO

41. Anthony Ferdaise * Mr. Padlock 2000
Sponsor: Padlock / Tuff Stuff Leatherware * Phoenix, AZ

42. Ron Grigsby * Santa Clara County Mr. Leather
Sponsor: Santa Clara County Leather Assoc. * San Jose, CA

43. Howard Hao * Mr. Leather Ottawa-Hull 2000
Sponsor: The Ottawa Knights * Ottawa, Ontario Canada

44. Robert Goode * Mr. Texas Leather 2000
Sponsor: Dallas Eagle * Dallas, TX

45. Chuck Lance * Mr. Louisiana Leather 2000
Sponsor: The Lords of Leather * New Orleans, LA

46. John Paynenberg * Mr. Leather Holland 1999
Sponsor: Mr. Leather Holland / Club Cockring / Club Trash * Amsterdam, Netherlands

47. Scott Bloom * Mr. Pistons Leather 2000 (and First runner-up, IML 2000)
Sponsor: Pistons, LLC * Long Beach, CA

48. Charly Baker * Seattle Mr. Leather 1999
Sponsor: Generic Leather Productions of Washington * Seattle, WA

49. Randy Bodle * Mr. SLC Leather
Sponsor: Club Blue * Salt Lake City, UT

50. Kevin Clancy * Cell Block / Male Hide Leatherman 2000
Sponsor: Cell Block / Male Hide Leathers * Chicago, IL

51. Wim Clemens * Mr. The Boots 1999
Sponsor: The Boots V.Z.W. / Wessel Armin Hardwear * Antwerp Belgium, Amsterdam Netherlands

52. Tom Simpleman * Mr. Leather Colorado 2000
Sponsor: High Plains Leathers / Pikes Peak Summit Masters * Calahan / Colorado Springs, CO

53. Mark Frazier * Mr. Dallas Leather 2000
Sponsor: Shades of Grey * Dallas, TX

54. Tom Robinson * Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2000
Sponsor: Centaur MC * Washington, DC

55. Gary Hummel * Mr. Missouri Leather 2000
Sponsor: Gateway MC, Inc. / Barbdwyr Leather * St Louis, MO

56. Bruce Saari * Washington State Mr. Leather 1999
Sponsor: Washington State Mr. Leather Organization * Seattle, WA

57. eStevan deCastro * Mr. Leatherman Toronto 2000
Sponsor: Mr. Leatherman Toronto Competition, Inc * Toronto, Ontario, Canada

58. Mark Chipman * Mr. San Diego Leather 2000
Sponsor: Mr. San Diego Leather Contest * San Diego, CA

59. David Daniels * Mr. Detroit Eagle 2000
Sponsor: The Detroit Eagle * Detroit, Ml

60. Lance Gear * Mr. San Francisco Leather 2000
Sponsor: Mr. San Francisco Leather / Titan Media * San Francisco, CA

61. Dwayne Brainerd * Mr. Ozarks Leather 2000
Sponsor: Mr. Ozarks Leather * Republic, MO

62. Bob Miller * Mr. Edge Leather 2000
Sponsor: The Edge Bar * San Francisco, CA

Web Extra: David Hawks wins International Mr. Bootblack 2000

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

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

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

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:

Gregory Yort * Decatur, IL
Sponsor: Flashback Lounge

Boo-Boo * Cleveland, OH
Sponsors: Laws Leather / The Tool Shed

David Hawks * Richmond, VA
Sponsors: Centaur MC of Washington, DC / Richmond Leather Club

Gregory Hansord * Taylor, MI
Sponsors: R&R Saloon / Mr. Leather Michigan

Eric Leiff * Philadelphia, PA
Sponsor: 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.

Here’s what Hawks had to say the next day about why he is a bootblack and what he hopes to accomplish with his newly-awarded 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.”

Web Extra: IML 2000 Second Runner-up Bob “Puppy” Pedder

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)


Bob “Puppy” Pedder comes from the same leather family as new IML Mike Taylor, and Taylor refers to Pedder as his “evil brother.” Pedder is an event marketing specialist and fundraiser by profession, and one of the things he envisions is putting together large fundraisers benefitting both the Leather Archives & Museum and local charities.

Pedder is HIV-positive and legally blind. He gave details on his vision loss at the IML Winners’ Press Conference: “I lost 80% of my vision from CMV (cytomegalovirus) and I’ve been legally blind since October, 1996. A lot of my vision is almost like looking through some of that fog that you saw coming up on the stage at the contest last night. There’s no focus. I can’t tell if a lot of you are wearing a shirt or a t-shirt—I can’t really tell if you’re sticking your tongue out at me.”

At the contest the night before, Pedder started his speech by saying, “I was with Judy Collins a few weeks ago—she sends her best. She was receiving a lifetime achievement award for battling cancer, and I had a chance to talk with her about my battle with AIDS, losing my vision, being a puppy, and coming to Chicago for IML.” Pedder said Collins told him what she enjoyed most about his story was “seeing the pride in your face.” Pedder continued, “Our community has accomplished so much, and we have much to be proud of. And although I can’t see the pride in your face, I feel it. So I’d like to honor that pride by singing a song Judy recorded in 1971. Please hum along.”

He then sang “Amazing Grace”: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found/Was blind but now I see.” He later told me it was appropriate both literally and metaphorically—it touched not only on his vision loss, but also on “what it’s like to come into the leather community lost, and be taken under someone’s wing or a group of people’s wings.” He also said he very much appreciated “all of the contestants and the folks at IML” being so compassionate and helpful during the weekend.

Pedder said he is also very pleased with the choice of Scott Bloom as first runner-up. Bloom “was one of the first contestants I met at contestant registration, and from the very start he continued to come up to me and remind me who he was. So I got to know him probably a little bit better than a lot of the other contestants.”

There has never been another IML contestant with a vision impairment. Several years ago a vision-impaired contestant from Iowa registered for the contest but wasn’t able to actually come to Chicago to compete.

Web Extra: IML 2000 First Runner-up Scott Bloom

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)


IML 2000 First Runner-up Scott Bloom is a television editor from the Long Beach, CA area. He follows in the footsteps of Sean Reilly, IML 1999 First Runner-up, and Mark Malan, IML 1998 First Runner-up, all of whom were sponsored by Pistons Bar of Long Beach. When I asked him why contestants from Pistons keep doing so well in IML, Bloom attributed it at least partly to the fact that Pistons has a large and very diverse clientele from all areas of the gay, leather and bear communities, and that diversity produces titleholders who are well-rounded and familiar with all areas of the community.

Bloom is involved with Leather Archives & Museum and is working on a documentary history of the motorcycle club to which he belongs. Other than that, when asked about his plans for the coming year, he simply says, “Like I said in my speech last night, I’m gonna work.”

Web Extra: International Mr. Leather 2000 Mike Taylor

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)


Mike Taylor, Mr. Heartland Leather 2000, is the new International Mr. Leather 2000. Taylor is sponsored by Heartland Leather Productions and TriState Leather of Columbus, OH. He is a resident of Cincinnati, OH and works for Procter & Gamble in marketing. He regularly schedules and participates in frequent fundraising events for the Leather Archives & Museum and has helped develop the “S&M Reform School,” a teaching event hosted by the Serpent Bar in Cincinnati that reaches out to those less familiar with leather through live demonstrations and discussions.

Asked about his priorities for the coming year, Taylor responded: “Continuing passing of the knowledge down to the next generation. We’ll use the labels of old guard and new guard, that’s what we’ve chosen, but to continue to figure out ways to make connections through learning, play, training, and through community events like IML—to continue the momentum of bringing all our different groups together.” He also plans to continue to raise funds to pay off the mortgage on the Leather Archives & Museum’s new home.

Taylor is an articulate and passionate speaker, and when asked about reaching out to the broader GLBT communities, his response was quotable: “This community has always been outlaw, and it’s always been a leader. That means it stands alone, and it’s always gonna be that way, and don’t kid yourself. Yes, we will make bonds with our other brothers and sisters, and I hope they sometime realize when the right wing puts us in a camp, it’s not gonna matter if you’re in Banana Republic khakis, or if you’re in leather—we’re all going into the camp.”

The text of the speech Taylor delivered during the IML contest is available on the web at

Web Extra: IML 2000, The Dawn of the Leather Millennium

(Leather Life column published on Lavender Magazine website, Issue #132, June 16, 2000)

PHOTO: 1032.JPG IML Founder Chuck Renslow, left, congratulates IML 2000 Mike Taylor, right.

Some things about this year’s 22nd annual International Mr. Leather (IML) contest were the same: It was held in Chicago, as always, on Memorial Day weekend, as always (May 26-29). The host hotel was the Congress, as it has been since 1995 (but as it won’t be for the foreseeable future). The contest itself was held at the same venue as in recent years, the Congress Theater (no relation and no proximity to the Congress Hotel). As it has been from the beginning, IML 2000 was, as contest producer Chuck Renslow put it, “the high holy days of the leather community.”

But, in keeping with the start of the new millennium, some things were profoundly different this year. The heart of the leather flag seemed to be the ruling element of the weekend as feelings, passions and emotions (and hyperbole) ran high. At Sunday night’s contest, IML Chief Judge Thom Dombkowski noted the general discussion about whether the new millennium started on January 1, 2000 or whether it will start on January 1, 2001. He then declared that, as far as he was concerned, “The dawn of the new millennium starts here in this theater, tonight, with us.”

In many ways IML 2000 set records and rose to new levels. There were 62 contestants, the most ever. And this was truly an international contest, with competitors from seven countries. There were five European contestants, including Joe Harnett of Dublin, Ireland, the first Irish leatherman who has ever competed. Howard Hao, Mr. Leather Ottawa-Hull 2000, was born and raised in mainland China. Other firsts included a contestant who is legally blind (Mr. Boston Leather 2000 Bob “Puppy” Pedder, who captured second runner-up honors), and the first self-identified heterosexual man to ever compete at IML (Oklahoma Mr. Leather 2000 Terrell Brown, whose article about the weekend is available on the web at

The contestants met the judges (and the audience) for the first time on Friday evening at the Congress Hotel. They were introduced alphabetically by last name and drew numbers that determined their order of appearance during the contest. The judging panel and other dignitaries were also introduced. After that it was time to party, with Boston, Canada, Southern California and Texas hosting organized gatherings.

Early on Saturday morning the judges started the contestant interviews. This year it was a case of so many contestants, so little time—the judges reportedly had only eight minutes to talk to each contestant. But many if not most of the interviews were intense for both judges and contestant, and comments started to circulate around the lobby of the Congress Hotel about how many boxes of Kleenex the judges had gone through. People were starting to realize that this year’s IML was emotionally charged in a way that previous IML contests have not been. (At some point the general leather public may get a chance to see some of the drama that happened during the interviews—this year, for the first time ever, some of the interviews were videotaped for use in an upcoming documentary about the leather community.)

There was plenty to do at IML on Saturday even if you weren’t a judge or a contestant. There was a huge Leather Market with leather vendors from across the country and around the world. There was a Mental Health Professionals Discussion Group and a seminar on Leadership Skills for the Leather Community. There was a Leather in Recovery generic twelve-step meeting, one of seven held during the weekend. The Leather Archives and Museum was open, complete with shuttle-bus service from the Congress Hotel. Saturday afternoon there were organized gatherings of leatherwomen, boys and cigar smokers.

For the contestants, Saturday night’s Physique Prejudging was about showing as much skin, both leather and human, as they were comfortable with. But it was also about showing wit, cleverness and creativity by coming up with a snappy answer to the question asked them by co-emcees Frank Nowicki and Tom Stice. One of the most memorable responses was by Ron Grigsby, Santa Clara County (CA) Mr. Leather, who gave a soulful rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Also notable was contestant Howard Hao, who grew up in mainland China and for whom English is a second language. He joked about all the “leg” metaphors he had heard from people as he got ready for the contest: first his friends, following the old theater superstition, told him to “break a leg,” and when he thought they meant it literally they told him they were just “pulling his leg.” He got a lot of mileage out of this shtick with the audience; little did he know he would get much more mileage out of it the following evening.

PHOTOS: 2083.JPG and 2084.JPG The opening number at the International Mr. Leather Contest.

PHOTO: 2060.JPG All 62 IML contestants on stage at the Congress Theater.

There were over 1800 people at Sunday evening’s contest and show at the Congress Theater. After an opening number by some excellent leather-clad dancers and the introduction of all 62 contestants, the crowd was welcomed by IML Founder and Executive Producer Chuck Renslow. During his speech he presented a Leather Community call to arms, or rather to the polls, to make sure the elected officials who are chosen this year are sympathetic to our needs.

The weekend’s judges were introduced by IML Chief Judge Dombkowski after he confirmed the rumors about the intensity of the interviews: “It’s been another cathartic year on the judging panel . . . We really put [the contestants] through their paces this year. This was probably the first time we didn’t waste a lot of time on leather trivia or history questions. We spent approximately seventeen hours with 62 incredible men, looking into their minds, looking into their hearts, looking into their souls. They all belong here, and they are a credit to all of us.”

Next to speak was Joseph Bean, the executive director of The Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M). In his speech he thanked the community for its support, both in urging people around the world to contribute items to the LA&M (“We have gone from representing about nine countries when I spoke to you last year to more than 30 this year”) and in swiftly making the dream of a larger building for the LA&M a reality (“I announced the capital campaign to buy a building in January, 1998, imagining that it would take you guys ten years to buy us a building. Well, it took you less than a year and a half.”). Current plans call for the mortgage on the new building to be paid by August, 2004; over $3,700 was donated at the contest toward that goal.

Before announcing the twenty finalists, Marcus Hernandez noted that “One of the census items that our Chief Judge asks each contestant before we start the questioning is, ‘How big is your dick?’ I was taking notes, of course, and I want you to look up here—there is 85 feet of dangling meat [on this stage.]” (Tom Stice later asked: “Was that AOL feet? With 62 contestants and 85 feet they’re all over twelve inches.”) The twenty finalists were, as always, greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

While the finalists prepared for the speech and physique segments of the competition, the presentation of the International Mr. Bootblack awards was emceed by International Mr. Bootblack 1999 Robert Ehrlich; the awards themselves were presented by International Ms. Bootblack 1999 Leslie Anderson. David Hawks of Richmond, VA won both the Bootblack Brotherhood Award (selected by the bootblack contestants themselves) and the International Mr. Bootblack 2000 title.

This year’s IML speeches were notable in that they featured quotations from many prominent people, among them George Washington Carver, Hillary Clinton (“It takes a village . . .”), John F. Kennedy (“Ask not . . .”), and George Bernard Shaw. Topics included Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, leadership, education and mentoring. Several contestants related stories about their leather coming-out, and two contestants told stories about being survivors of domestic abuse.

And yet another contestant—this time it was Bob “Puppy” Pedder —was moved to song. Pedder, who is legally blind, talked about a recent meeting with singer Judy Collins and then sang “Amazing Grace,” which Collins recorded in 1971 and which ends with the words “was blind, but now I see.” The audience was overwhelmed.

During his “jock walk” (the physique portion of the competition), Howard Hao tantalized the audience with some tai chi-style moves—but he became so involved in the movements that one of his legs went off the edge of the stage and he nearly fell into the orchestra pit. Fortunately, he managed to regain his balance. Later, when it was time for his speech, he limped on stage with one leg completely stiff. After the audience roared with laughter, he started walking normally and joked again about how his friends had told him to “break a leg” this weekend. Then he got serious:

“I was told I would never make it to the finals of this event. That opinion was based on the fact that I just don’t fit the conventional image of a leatherman . . . I speak with a Chinese accent and was a Red Guard at age 12—trained to lay down my life for the defense of Communism, Joseph Stalin, Mao tse Tung. Yet, here I am. I’m here because I left China for North America, I came out and I was warmly welcomed into this family where I feel free and respected even though I’m different. When we leave here you may not remember me, you may not remember my name, but I hope you remember we are a community which is regarded as a symbol of individuality, diversity, and tolerance. And our community includes all the brothers and sisters regardless of the ethnic backgrounds from which we come.”

PHOTO: 1053.JPG Bruce Chopnik, IML 1999, giving his farewell speech.

With the conclusion of the speech and physique segments of the competition it was time to present IML 1999 Bruce Chopnik for his step-down speech. Chopnik described his title year using metaphors from “The Wizard of Oz”—being caught in the tornado and spinning from controversy to controversy (two of which were the relationship of the Coors Brewing Company to the gay community, and the soul-searching that led to his decision not to participate in the Millennium March on Washington). He told of losing a primary relationship and of being away from home for 43 weekends, but he also told in Oz-like fashion of the many wonderful places he’d been and people he’d met. He introduced the other two members of his “team,” his first runner-up Sean Reilly and his second runner-up Mike Hargiss, who had worked closely with him throughout his title year.

PHOTO: 1051.JPG Bonnie Pointer on stage at IML 2000.

PHOTOS: 1050.JPG and 1046.JPG Jump In! Bonnie Pointer got the IML audience up out of their seats and onto the stage for some dancin.’

International Mr. Leather traditionally features an entertainment segment while the tallymasters total up the scores and determine the winners. This year’s entertainment was improbably-blond disco diva Bonnie Pointer, who wowed the crowd as she sang her classic hits “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” She then performed several songs made popular by her sisters’ group The Pointer Sisters: “Jump,” with everyone in the audience yelling “Jump!” and “Jump In!” on cue, and “I’m So Excited,” which brought many audience members (and a few contestants) to the stage to become part of the show.

For an encore Pointer performed her new version of “MacArthur Park,” which features revised lyrics that are less cryptic (no more “love’s hot fevered iron” or “Someone left the cake out in the rain”) and more explicit (she mentioned something about removing her bra and panties and never having gone this far before). It will, no doubt, be coming soon to a dance floor near you.

It must be noted that throughout Pointer’s performance the sign-language interpreters really got into the swing of things and displayed some awesome moves—we should all enjoy our jobs as much as they apparently were. But I pity the poor tallymasters, who had to do all that math in the midst of all that noise.

PHOTO: 1045.JPG IML 2000 First Runner-up Scott Bloom is congratulated by IML 1999 First Runner-up Sean Reilly. Both are from the Long Beach, CA area.

PHOTO: 1044.JPG Mike Taylor hears the news: he’s the new International Mr. Leather.

PHOTO: 1043.JPG Mike Taylor, new International Mr. Leather, hugs his Second Runner-up and “evil brother” Bob “Puppy” Pedder.

PHOTO: 1042.JPG IML 1999 Bruce Chopnik to IML 2000 Mike Taylor: “Come here, you’re gonna need this sash.”

PHOTO: 1037.JPG New International Mr. Leather 2000 Mike Taylor, center, is flanked by First Runner-up Scott Bloom, left, and Second Runner-Up Bob “Puppy” Pedder, right.

Finally, the twenty finalists were brought back to the stage and Chuck Renslow announced the winners. Second runner-up honors went to Bob “Puppy” Pedder, Mr. Boston Leather 2000. First runner-up honors went to Scott Bloom, sponsored by Pistons Bar in Long Beach, CA (remarkably, this is the third year in a row that Mr. Pistons Leather has taken first runner-up honors in IML). In the contest’s finale, an exuberant Mike Taylor, Mr. Heartland Leather 2000 from Columbus/Cincinnati, OH was sashed as the new International Mr. Leather 2000.

The contest was over, but the parties were just beginning. Sunday evening’s official IML Victory Celebration Party at Chicago’s House of Blues was scheduled to last until 4 AM. Monday evening’s Black and Blue Ball, the traditional closing event of the IML weekend, was split for the first time into separate “Black” and “Blue” Balls, held at separate locations. (The change was necessary because the event has become so popular that one location was no longer enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend.)

The new IML, the runners-up, and many of the weekend’s judges met the press at the traditional Winners’ Press Conference on Monday. New IML Mike Taylor was asked, “Who’s the first person you called when you found out you won?” Taylor’s response: “I didn’t have to call anybody. They were all there.” Turning to second runner-up Pedder, he continued, “And Puppy was right there beside me. Puppy and I are from the same leather family.” Pedder chimed in: “And we’ve adopted Scott!” (referring to Scott Bloom, the first runner-up).

IML Chief Judge Dombkowski again waxed enthusiastic about this year’s contestants: “This was the most incredible group of men that we’ve ever dealt with. We were making jokes about the amount of Kleenex that we were using, but each and every interview was a catharsis. As I met each contestant coming off the stage, coming off the buses, in the lobby, they thanked me for what we did for them.” First runner-up Bloom agreed: “They managed to accomplish in one weekend what six months of therapy hadn’t been able to.”

New IML Taylor added, “These guys broke our hearts a million times backstage. I cannot impress that on you enough. We will be accumulating the sixty speeches, because every story’s gonna break your heart, and empower you, and focus you, and make the clan fight what’s going on.” Plans call for an IML yearbook containing each contestant’s speech and perhaps a journal item from each contestant. And an upcoming documentary will feature this year’s IML contest, including footage of some of the IML interviews.

Amy Marie Meek, another of the weekend’s judges, said she felt a renewed sense of pride in her community. “After being in the leather community and being around the title circuit for a long time, you become very jaded. And at times you lose heart, you lose interest in it . . . I’ve started to feel that way in the last few years . . . but because of these 62 [contestants] I, personally, have hope again. I’ve never seen a more impressive group of contestants.”

David Kloss, one of this year’s judges and the first IML, summed up the contest like this: “I’m kind of in shell shock right now. It was a very warming experience, and it’s important to point out the camaraderie among those 62 men. There was no backbiting—everyone reached out to help each other, no matter what you looked like, where you came from, or who won. They all supported each other. You could feel it, and we got reports back that it was true.

“We’re not really judging them, we’re trying to find out who they are. And that’s the hard part. When you look at each man up there, find his heart, find out where he’s coming from, mix that with what you feel would be the man who could go out there and speak for the leather community—it’s a very difficult and emotionally-draining job.

“The judging sessions were very emotional—with the stories that came from all of them, we went through five boxes of Kleenex. And every single man walked out of there, in our eyes, a winner.”

The dates for next year’s International Mr. Leather weekend are May 24-28, 2001. The host hotel will be Chicago’s famed Palmer House Hilton. For IML 2001 information and weekend package reservations call (800) 545-6753 or visit For hotel reservations call the Palmer House; mention IML for a special room rate.