CHICAGO – John Pendal of London, England, was named the 25th International Mr. Leather over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. He represented The Hoist bar in London.
Donald Dotson of St. Petersburg, Florida, Mr. Suncoast Eagle, was named first runner up. Stephen Blackwell of Los Angeles, Mr. LA Leather, was second runner up. Richie Chameroy of San Francisco was named International Mr. Bootblack.
The contest Sunday capped a weekend full of events as leatherpeople from around the world streamed into Chicago and filled the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop. Events included a host of activities, including the sixth annual Mr. Ebony Leather contest, won by Peter Mitchell of Ann Arbor, Mich., and held for the first time at the host hotel, a large leather market, receptions and gatherings held by local Chicago groups such as Chicago Hellfire Club and Windy City Boys Troop and parties all over the city.
The contest itself was held again at the Congress Theatre on the city’s northwest side. IML kept up their tradition of high production values with the opening dramatic dance number and video screens hung above the stage to allow those in the back and in the balconies better views of the contestants as they came out.
IML executive producer Chuck Renslow welcomed the attendees to the silver anniversary of the event. He noted how the leather community and the world had changed in the quarter century the event had been held.
“The changes I have seen in my life, especially in the last 25 years, are nothing less than astonishing,” Renslow said. Since the first IML, Chicago has gotten an openly gay alderman, a pro-gay governor of the state and all Democratic candidates for President support gay rights. And IML has grown from a small event in one bar to the fifth largest annual convention held in Chicago.
Renslow also pointed out the establishment of a Leather Archives and Museum, now in it’s own home in Chicago’s north side. He also noted the growth and acceptance of bootblacks and the explosion of the leatherboy movement. He also reiterated his feelings on barebacking and abuse of drugs like meth, GHB and Extacy.
“We are at a crossroads,” Renslow said. “President Bill Clinton called it ‘building a bridge to the 21st century.’ Well, we have crossed that bridge. The generational change has begun. But we need to choose now what road we will take.” He thanked all of those present for “making IML’s first 25 years something truly special.”
Former IML Guy Baldwin also spoke during the event. He spoke of the heritage of the leather community and how much had already been lost. The final balloon payment on the loan for the Leather Archives and Museum will be due at the end of the year. Baldwin proposed making the final $200,000 payment be the goal of this year’s IML and of the leather community. Information on donations for the final payment on the LA&M can be found at www.leatherarchives.org or by emailing Baldwin at GuyBaldwin@aol.com.
Chameroy was named as International Mr. Bootblack after the final twenty contestants were announced by leather writer Marcus Hernandez.
The final twenty contestants gave their speeches, all presenting themselves well. Douglas Connors, Mr. Leather Ottawa-Outaouais, got a strong round of applause when he said “You must love the skin you’re in before the second skin will fit.” Attendees also saw the final physique judging.
While votes were tallied, in what may be a first, Midnight Circus, an acrobatic troupe, preformed a routine reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. Along with a whipping and lasso demonstration, the performers also performed acrobatics from streamers of fabric and lengths of chains hung above the stage to the great appreciation of the audience. Tony Award nominee Sharon McKnight also gave a vocal and comedic performance both at the contest and at the Salute post-contest celebration.
During a press conference Monday, Pendal said his first priority will be to raise awareness of leather in the United Kingdom. Pendal is the first IML from that nation. He also plans to help new legislation in Britain. Two of the four London leather bars have been closed by police recently. “Because of that, I will be supporting the Spanner Trust because there is a sexual offensives bill in Parliament this year and we have a chance to add an amendment,” he said. According to Pendal, consensual BSDM is a criminal offense under British law. He also plans to tour Europe to raise leather awareness in Europe itself and reminding Americans there is an international leather community.