Every year at the International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest, each of the top 20 semifinalists presents a 90-second speech on a topic of his choosing. The topics of these speeches can be viewed as a statement of the leather community’s current agenda.
This year’s topics included activism; safe sex and HIV; and uniting Old Guard/New Guard and other factions of the leather/BDSM/fetish community. Several contestants spoke about being proud and visible.
Donal Heath, Mr. Eagle London 2008/2009, quoted a line from Star Trek character Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “If we are to be damned, let us be damned for who we really are.”
Appropriate for an international contest, Ken Hearst, Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2009, called out to “our brothers and sisters” in Egypt, Iran, Russia, and other places where sexual freedom and diversity are not celebrated: “Their day of sexual freedom is coming, and they are not alone in this
Mike Lunter, Mr. Missouri Leather 2009, spoke of his own aging process, and encouraged the crowd to “celebrate every age.”
Brendon McGovern, Mr. Leather Ottawa 2009, one of the younger contestants, who went on to be named first runner-up, thanked those who “have been fighting for years, for decades, for the rights of our community. And I want you to teach me and others how we can be better fighters” for those rights.
But the most talked-about issue this year was the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Brandon Clark, Mr. San Francisco Leather 2009, whose military career was affected by the policy, said that since the policy’s implementation, “over 12,000 gays and lesbians have been discharged, making it the only law in the United States that mandates firing based solely on sexual orientation.”
Ammar Houssamo, Mr. Chicago Leather 2009, who served in the army in his native Syria, now is partnered with a man who was discharged from the US Army for being gay.
Rick Russell, Mr. Bolt Leather 2009, a 20-year military man, ended his speech by insisting, “President Barack Obama, we must, today, repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Jeffrey Payne, Mr. Texas Leather 2009, who became the new IML, told how important leather-community support had been as he survived Hurricane Katrina four years ago; as he discovered he was HIV-positive one year ago; and as he was told, three weeks before the IML contest, that his ability to hear the spoken word would cease to exist in a few years. Payne shared, “This news has only reaffirmed my understanding of our leather culture, because we do not listen to our journeys with our ears—we listen to our journey with our hearts—and I will always be able to hear you.”