Looking Forward From IML

Chuck Renslow's Speech at IML 2003

The 25th anniversary International Mr. Leather competition was held last month in Chicago, IL. The co-founder of the event, Chuck Renslow, delivered the following address on the night of May 25. We congratulate the IML organization on this milestone in their history and are pleased to reprint Mr. Renslow's remarks for the benefit of those who couldn't attend this year's contest.

Good evening and welcome to the 25th anniversary of International Mr. Leather.

Iíve spent a lot of time these last few days walking around the Palmer House and talking with many of you; getting to know who you are and where you come from. What struck me was how much has changed since the first IML contest 25 years ago.

The changes I have seen in my life, especially during the last 25 years, are nothing less than astonishing. Being a gay man or woman is no longer talked about in whispers and in secret. We're out there in ways we could only have dreamed about back then. A testimony to that is the recent elections of Tom Tunney, the first openly gay alderman here in Chicago, and Rod R. Blagojevich, our governor, who is pro-gay. Also worth noting is the fact that all of the democratic contenders for President of the United States support gay rights. But the changes Iíve seen, good and bad, go beyond the election of public officials.

The leather community has changed a great deal. IML is living proof of that. What was a small event 25 years ago now attracts up to 15,000 leatherfolk from all over the world. In bars and clubs around the globe, well over 1,000 contests are held each year, though no other contest exists of the magnitude of IML. Through these events the leather tribe makes their presence felt everywhere in their communities worldwide.

When we band together as one, with respect for all, amazing things can happen. Thirteen years ago, Tony DeBlase presented to the leather tribe the leather pride flag. That flag has become the cornerstone and rallying symbol for all of us.

The establishment of the leather archives is another shining example of what this community can do when we truly band together. What was a dream and an idea in the early 90's is now a living, breathing, place filled with the stories, artifacts and milestones of our history. And we built it, we bought it, and we own it.

In the last 25 years, we saw the growth and ultimate acceptance of bootblacks. First only viewed as the work of a bottom or a boy or a slave, bootblacks have grown into something much more. A fetish to be sure, but also a person who embraces th