A Hero Leaves Us :: Leather Folk on the Passing of Chuck Renslow
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One of the world's most important leathermen left the planet this past week. Chuck Renslow, a pivotal figure in our scene, died after struggling with longtime illness. This sent shock waves through the leather world because this remarkable man touched our lives in so many ways, directly or indirectly.
My own history with Chuck goes back to 1972 when I walked into his Chicago bar, the Gold Coast, the very first U.S. leather bar to open. I met Chuck at the Gold Coast and our paths would cross for decades. In 1977, he offered me a job as a bartender at his newly opened Center Stage Disco and Cabaret Nightclub. Chuck was always incredibly good to me.
A standout aspect of Chuck was his character. He always stood for what he believed. He was an out gay leatherman in the 1950s. Imagine what that must have been like. Yet, whether it was in local Chicago politics, within the LGBT communities, or the leather world, Chuck consistently took a stand for what he believed was best for his own communities and for mankind. He was a truly good and principled man.
This column itself also has strong ties to Chuck. This column's originator, Mr. Marcus Hernandez, was a long-time friend of Chuck. Marcus served as a judge many times at the contest Chuck started, International Mr. Leather, where there was a long-standing tradition of Marcus announcing the top 20 contestants.
I could extol Chuck's virtues and accomplishments for pages, but due to the collective sorrow felt across the country and world, Chuck has been honored with beautiful obituary articles in many publications, including this one.
Instead of repeating all those well-deserved accolades, I thought it would be best to ask a couple of people who have been close to Chuck for many years, including through his last days, and a couple of locals with longtime ties to this standout man.
Jon Krongaard is on the International Mr. leather Executive Committee and is President of the Leather Archives and Museum.
"Chuck leaves behind a legacy that few could hope to achieve," he wrote. "So many things that are taken for granted in the LGBTQ community today were achievements and rights hard fought by Chuck. Not to diminish the contributions of others, but so much started with him. Especially his dedication and love of our huge leather family is inspiring and will never, ever be forgotten; certainly not by me."
Joey McDonald is the Executive Director of the International Mr. Leather organization.
"Chuck had a way of drawing people in," he wrote. "You found yourself in an orbit around him with many like-minded folk, picking up bits and pieces of wisdom, and being urged to go home, back to our local communities, and do small things. And we did. Many kink events got started because he simply told us to be creative."
Lenny Broberg is a local Bay Area leather notable who has been a stellar emcee at the International Mr. Leather contest for the last few years. He offered a lengthy history and rememberance.
"It is difficult to find words to describe Chuck and try to cover all the things that he was to so many people," wrote Broberg. "I met him for the first time 25 years ago. I knew he owned a bar, a bathhouse and IML. Over the years, I got to know so much more. He could be a stern taskmaster when he wanted things done. But he was also engaging, funny, smart, a visionary ahead of his time and always had a mischievous glint in his eye.
"Chuck was also a man of conviction and dedicated to the welfare of the leather and greater LGTBQ communities. His opening address each year at IML challenged our community to do more and be better. But he did not stop at words: his actions were even louder. Chuck was the driving force behind the Leather Archives and Museum, because he recognized that so much of our history and legacy was being lost or destroyed.
"I also remember a few years ago, prior to the advent of PrEP, he decided bareback videos could not be sold in the leather mart at IML. He got a lot of pushback, but he was convinced that it was for the good of the community because he was a strong proponent of safe sex. He didn't cave in to the pressure.
"A lot will be said about Chuck Renslow, but no words will truly address what he has done for so many for so long, much of which will never be known by many. It is said that a person's character can be judged by their actions toward those that can do nothing in return for that person. Chuck Renslow was a man of immeasurable character. And I was lucky enough to call him a friend."
Gayle Rubin is a San Francisco resident, anthropologist and world-famous leather history expert. "Chuck was one of the most consequential leathermen of the long 20th century; his impact was vast and spanned many decades," Rubin commented. "He left indelible marks on so many areas of leather social life, among them: producing iconic gay male erotica, running one of the earliest and longest lasting leather bars, and building the leather contest system from a big but mostly local party into a major international institution.
"But to my mind, his most significant contribution was his role in establishing and maintaining the Leather Archives and Museum. Chuck gave the LA&M its legal corporate structure, but in addition he quietly made sure it had enough funds to operate for many years. He also made the LA&M the ongoing beneficiary of IML. Although many others, such as Tony DeBlase, made key contributions to the LA&M, Chuck did more than any other single individual to grow the LA&M and to secure its future. In doing so, he made it possible to secure a future for the leather past."
I could add more here because so many people loved and respected Chuck Renslow, but I think the many honorings of the man throughout the media this past week and what was said here will suffice.
Chuck was an icon, an icon of monumental proportions who will go down in history as one of the most important people to move within the leather world.
The next time you're having amazing leathersex of any sort, think about Chuck. Smile to yourself. Realize that maybe, just maybe, you're able to do what you're doing at that moment because of the work this great man did as groundwork. Maybe silently say his name to yourself. Chuck would like that.
Chuck, the leather world continues to love and remember you.
Rest in peace.
Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him through his website, www.bannon.com