Chicago's Leather Invasion

  • by Race Bannon
  • Tuesday May 26, 2015
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Being a former Chicagoan, every time the International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend rolls around, I get excited. It's always a trip down hometown memory lane for me as well as a chance to reconnect with countless friends, some of whom I only see there once a year. It's essentially a leather invasion with thousands of guys descending upon the city from all over the world to frolic in kinkland for a few days. It's truly special.

When speaking of IML, there's a tendency to focus primarily on the contest, which is admittedly a big deal, and most consider it the most high profile of all leather contests. But surrounding the contest is a massive leather and kink celebration of parties (the San Francisco party is one of the highlights), vendor market, dances and other events. Together they form what I consider the premiere gay male leather event in the world. The vast majority of attendees don't attend the contest at all. Instead, they focus on the rest of the weekend's offerings. At IML there is something for every gay male kinkster of just about any erotic proclivity.

I will repeat something I've said before that was told to me by local leatherman Patrick Mulcahey, because it so beautifully sums up why IML is so special and an event I encourage every true leather and kink gay man to attend.

Patrick said, "People talk about a 'leather tribe,' but I never experienced that until IML - thousands of men of all ages and races who share collective ideals about sexuality, pleasure, masculinity, beauty, character, and a more just and loving future."

So that is why I keep returning to IML. If you're a kinky gay man, I strongly encourage you to give IML a try at least once.

This year IML weekend took place May 21-25, headquartered at the Congress Plaza Hotel. Since the Congress isn't as large as some of the past hotels that have hosted IML, there were attendees scattered across many hotels in the nearby vicinity, and that made the surrounding streets appear to be a leatherman's paradise neighborhood for a few days. I loved it.

I used to say the contest was the centerpiece of the weekend. As I've talked to a variety of guys who attend, I've come to disagree with my former view. While the contest is important to the weekend, it's really about the camaraderie and erotic freedom the weekend offers that draws the massive numbers. Still, IML is the iconic leather contest.

This year 52 men competed to be International Mr. Leather 2015 and six men competed to be International Mr. Bootblack 2015 (IMBB).

Among the competitors were our own Bay Area's Trevor Black (Mr. SF Leather 2015), Daniel DeLage (Mr. Powerhouse 2015), Al Parso-York (Mr. Alameda County Leather 2015), Scott "Big Red" Farrell (former Mr. SF Leather), and running for International Mr. Bootblack was Dusty "Bamm-Bamm" Garner (former International Leatherboy). All of them did a fantastic job throughout the competition.

A contest like IML can't happen without a panel of judges who put in a lot of hours over the course of the weekend. Judges for the contest this year were Ramien Pierre (IML 2014), Kenneth Anthony, Daniel Dumont, George Giaouris, Patrick Grady, Riley Johnson, Midori, Bruce Ross, and Jeff Wiloughby. Tallymasters were Don Leach and Danny Tamez. Judges for the International Mr. Bootblack competition were Daddy Tony, slave tabitha, and Scout. The contest was once again masterfully MC'd by the Bay Area's own Lenny Broberg.

The judges score multiple times during the weekend. For those unfamiliar with the process, every contestant is scored during a private preliminary interview by the judges for 60% of their score. Later during the weekend all contestants receive 40% of their score at the Pecs and Personality portion open to the public during which their stage presence and personality are scored. At that point all scores are tallied and the top 20 contestants are determined.

Then, during the final contest, the top 20 contestants are announced at the start of the night and those twenty men proceed through that night's competition during which they are judged on leather image, presentation skills that includes a short speech, and physical appearance. At the end of the night the scores from the final night's competition only are tallied and the winners are announced.

Running alongside the IML contest is another contest that takes place all weekend, the International Mr. Bootblack Contest. Bootblacks are scored in four categories: bootblacking skills (50%), a private interview with the judges (20%), personality and stage presence (10%), and ballots (20%). Ballots allow for the general public to weigh in on the scoring by voting for their favorite bootblack during the "open polish" portion of the weekend when the bootblacks are available to work on the boots of anyone who climbs into their chairs.

Patrick Smith (Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2015), ended up winning the International Mr. Leather title while Kevin Murphy (Mr. Leather Ireland 2015) was first runner-up and Brian Donner (Mr. Tristate Leather 2014) was second runner-up.

Bamm-Bamm ended up winning the International Mr. Bootblack title while Bootblack Zach was first runner-up and Brooklyn was second runner-up.

Ramien Pierre, IML 2014, a smart and savvy leatherman who represented the IML title well, offered this about his experience this past year. Maybe the new IML will find this useful.

Ramien said, "The greatest compliment I received during my title year came recently, and at a moment when I was feeling unsure whether or not I was doing a good job. Someone told me that I was 'a good example of being a good example.' It was a joy and a relief to hear someone so succinctly summarize what I had spent 11 months trying to figure out."

So as I type these last few words as this amazing weekend in Chicago ends, I am reminded that not everyone here gets to return home to a place as remarkable for leather and kink folks as the Bay Area. There's no place quite like the Bay Area. We are so damn lucky.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. You can reach him on his website, For Leather events listings, visit

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