I’m learning so much on my journey - first and foremost I know that there are many things that I don’t know (however, I’m open to education!) Below is a bit of historical information for reference.
I’ve found that many people just hear the words “Pride Week” when Leather Pride is mentioned. While leatherfolk are a fetish subculture of the LGBT+ community, “being leather” can refer to anyone of any orientation. We all enjoy parties, parades, and rainbow glitter...but this is a bit different.
Leather Pride even has its own flag (which was designed by Tony DeBlase in 1989): “nine horizontal stripes of equal width”, “the stripes alternate black and royal blue, the central stripe is white. In the upper left quadrant of the flag is a large red heart.”
Leather history spans back to World War II, when it grew out of biker culture. It holds a rich variety of tradition and culture; I encourage you to research it at your convenience.
A large collection of online information (archival and current) can be found on the web at TheLeatherFoundation.com and LeatherFest.com. Should you have the opportunity to view it, the Carter/Johnson Leather Library is an amazing resource for leather and fetish history. This library is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization consisting of a huge travelling collection of books, magazine, posters, art, club and event pins, newspapers, event programs and more ephemera.
Leather history is steeped in protocol and rituals, and has transformed into a wide variety of contests and new blood. Traditions have adapted as leather (and even BDSM) becomes more mainstream. A line on the Wikipedia entry for leather subculture reads: “Many individuals describe long periods of introspection leading to their choice to identify as ‘leather’” – which I can personally attest to.
Below is an account from one titleholder, Mr. San Diego Leather 1984: Mark Holmes, courtesy of our friends at FetishmenSanDiego. I’ve trimmed it for the purposes of this page, but please check out his full story here. That link also includes a list of the previous Mr. San Diego Leather title winners. For a more comprehensive read, check out this lengthy (but highly informative) leather history article at ZengersMag.
as told by Mark Holmes
My local story begins in 1982, as that's the year I left flying jets in the Air Force to come to America's finest city to find a new life and career. At the time, there were two leather bars here, the Hole, which still exists and is the venue for this year's 2002 Mr. Leather San Diego Contest on March 2nd, and the Loading Zone, a small bar on India and Date that's now the Pensione Hotel. I had been in town for at least a year before I heard about the Mr. Leather Contest at the Loading Zone, where I opened the first of my three custom leather shops, Hard Labor Leather.
In 1983, A Mr. Steve Desdier won the title and represented us at the International Mr. Leather Contest in Chicago (the reason for the contest's existence), to represent the city in front of the world. The contest was given to him to run the following year. That year was 1984, where I won the title. Steve was off to find a new life in SF and handed the reins of the contest to me.
The owners of the Loading Zone sold the bar to Fred Atchison, who also owned a women's bar called Club, which reopened as BULC and became the hottest dance/leather bar in San Diego. The venue was considerably larger, shown even today, as the location is now home to the Casbah Club (downtown).
With the larger venue available and a growing population here in SD, the timing was perfect to move the contest even though the Loading Zone had another year in business. BULC was being renovated so we made the guess that with some good advertising and great contestants that we could fill a larger venue. That year Rick Jamieson became Mr. SD Leather 1985. It was a much larger crowd but being held at Mr. Dillons (now Richs') the crowd got lost in the building and we decided to move it the next year to BULC, where it remained from 1986 through at least 1989.
That year I decided to sell my leather business to the Crypt and moved to Los Angeles to (for the first time in six years) live under the same roof as my partner and try my hand at an acting career in movies, tv and commercials. I relinquished the ownership of the contest that year.
The contest had grown from a small group of leathermen to a packed venue of leathermen and women which provided great candidates for the International Title as well as benefited several charities, and I was very grateful for all the support of the community through some tough times. We lost a lot of our brothers but I know they'd be proud to see the way we've grown and carried on. We were the first part of the community to be hit hard, and the first to respond when we knew what we had to do.
Tom Chavez returned from IML as we all did, as a changed man who realized the size and scope of the Leather Movement for the first time. However, Tom came home with a plan of action and had reinvented the contest to become involved, not only with the leather community but the gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer community. He forged connections with those disparate groups that prior to then were more or less separated/worked separately. The way men and women in the leather community began working together for common goals and fundraising was raised to a new level. Over the course of several years, nearly a third of the annual budget for “Something Special Food Pantry”'s was raised during Leather Pride week, a goal that was achieved much to his doing.
He also returned to something we began back in the eighties where there was a leather pride week, involving not just one bar or business but organizations, motorcycle clubs and clubs across the community getting involved in leather pride week. Under the banner of San Diego Leather Pride, it's become an annual event attended by leathermen and leatherwomen from around the world.
As to the future of Leather Pride, it's up to you, readers. If you've never attended a leather event, you're encouraged to take the leap this year at one of the dozen or so different events happening during the week. You might find your niche in a community that's growing by leaps and bounds, and have a lot of fun doing it.
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