Celebrating IML: Meet Five Heroes From The Leather Community

This weekend the International Mr. Leather competition, or IML as participants call it, is upon us! Founded by Chuck Renslow in 1979, the Chicago-based event draws thousands of leather fans from around the world.While many partake in IML just to have fun, some participants and title holders have used it as a platform for advocating for LGBT causes. It’s also a surprising example of queer diversity, with attendees crossing ethnic, age and even gender boundaries. (2010 IML titleholder Tyler McKormick is a wheelchair-bound trans man.) Earlier this year we profiled five heroes of the leather community who are more than just pretty faces in harnesses—they’re using the spotlight to draw attention to vital issues. With everyone going hog wild in the Windy City, we thought we’d revisit these rawhide radicals Click through to meet some heroes of the leather community Photo: Michael Skiff  
  Brent Heinze, 37 Denver, CO Mr. Leather Colorado 2010 A licensed psychotherapist who developed multiple, state-funded HIV prevention programs, Heinze writes a relationship column for Denver’s OutFront and founded the Ascension fetish ball series. He’d been asked to compete in Mr. Leather Colorado for several years before finally taking the plunge in 2010. “It wasn’t until I felt that I had something in my heart that I wanted to express to the community that I decided I would run for the title,” he says. Heinze went on to win the National Leather Association Colorado’s 2011 Community Service and Leadership Award. He’s dedicated both his career and community work to wellness and HIV prevention in the gay-male community, while his Ascension events provide a safe space for sexual exploration. “If you do get a leather contest title, be prepared to work,” he advises would-be competitors. “I’ve gained a true sense of enjoyment and appreciation of life, friends, and how much effort it can take to achieve goals. Use this opportunity to do some amazing things.”  Photo: Brent Heinze  
  Danny Logan, 25 New York, NY Mr. Fire Island Leather 2011 On most nights, Danny Logan dolls it up as drag queen Dallas DuBois, one of the top drag queens in New York, where she performs at Barracuda, Industry and other top clubs. But, though Logan (above at far left) is a relative newcomer to the leather scene, he admits to dabbling with gear since his teen years: “The leather pageants are just like Miss America, except with fewer covered-up outfits, and minus the talent portion and catty behavior,” he dishes. “Just don’t be surprised if another contestant pours a bottle of lube on the floor in hopes that you slip!” Openly HIV+, Logan advocates for homeless LGBT youth and does HIV/AIDS outreach and education work. Last year, he was featured on an episode of ABC’s What Would You Do?,  in which patrons at a restaurant responded candidly (and sometimes unattractively) to his HIV status. The episode resulted in speaking engagements and radio interviews, in which he was able to further address “the stereotypes and struggles people living with HIV face,” he explains. Though he usually ventures out to Fire Island in heels and wig, he entered Mr. Fire Island Leather in 2011—and won. He credits the leather community with helping him gain self-confidence and embrace his true, dichotomous identity. “As both a professional drag performer and now a title-holding leather boy, my job is to show that, like life, there are gray areas in our community. It’s not so ‘cookie-cutter.’” Photo: Fire Island Q News  
Ryan Yoshinaga, 28 San Francisco, CA Mr. Central CA Leather 2007 Self-professed nerd Yoshinaga entered his first competition, Palm Spring’s West Coast Rubber, at the tender age of 23. Hindered by shyness, he didn’t win—yet when his Santa Barbara leather group dissolved, he was emboldened to enter the Central California Leather competition the following year. And that time he walked away with the sash. “I was always influenced to give back,” he says, “but at a young age, I had little experience and few credentials to provide much. I thought that even making an appearance in competitions would give me some exposure, help me become more visible and allow me more chances to give back in one way or another.” Yoshinaga went on to co-found  Kink University, a Fetish Fellowship (KUFF), a pansexual, student-organized educational group. Meeting weekly, KUFF members discuss BDSM dynamics, safety and risks—and hold workshops on bondage, electricity play and more. Ironically Yoshinaga feels that leather itself isn’t that important to the leather community: “It’s that brotherhood we create, where we can go to a bar or event and proudly say, this is my family,” he says. “I have their back and they have mine.” One of the few Asian-American faces seen in Kink Crusaders, he admits that “Asians tend to have strong family traditions, of presenting an image of the perfect child, and leather doesn’t always fit into that, but as I grow, I see families becoming more casual and open to these things. I  always see Asians at events, but [usually] shy and hiding in the dark corners. Maybe it’s a ninja thing?” Photo: Ryan Yoshinaga  
  Tyler McCormick Albuquerque, New Mexico International Mr. Leather 2010 A case manager for New Mexico AIDS Services by day, McCormick made leather contest history when he won IML in 2010. Not only was he the first female-to-male transgender man to snag the title, but also the first in a wheelchair (and first New Mexican to boot). Proclaiming himself a “leather gimp,” McCormick brought some Artie Abrams/Glee realness to IML as he joyfully whirled around the stage in his jockstrap. During his speech, McCormick moved and inspired the audience: “When I first transitioned I was told that I would never be accepted and that I would never be able to take my shirt off in public,” he said. “My presence here as a proud, confident Leatherman is proof to the contrary.” Also a Mr. Rio Grande Leather active in AIDS/HIV work and fundraising, McCormick spent his IML title year putting in appearances at many events, helping to raise awareness about the leather community and the warm, unconditional acceptance it has represented for him. “I ask you to look into your heart, discover your greatest desire, and pursue  it without fear. Strive to help those around you, the members of your leather family, to find their own paths. If we devote ourselves to providing the kind of unconditional support that I have enjoyed, we will make great strides in improving ourselves, our leather community, and the world.”
 Photo: Tyler McCormick  


Joe Mannetti, 49
New London, Connecticut
Mr. International Daddy Bear 2009

Holder of numerous bear-pageant titles—including Mr. Southern California Cub 2006, Mr. Los Angeles Bear 2008 and Mr. Southern California Bear 2008—Joe Mannetti has long been a community fixture. An actor, public speaker, counselor and activist, his philanthropic pursuits include raising money for the trans community, addiction-recovery services and people with AIDS.

Mannetti first gained notoriety in the early 2000s as bear porn star Joe Falconi (a gig that cost him his job with with Gays and Lesbians Initiating Dialogue for Equality, ironically). More recently, Mannetti has popped up in indie films like 2010’s BearCity and 2011’s The Summer of Massacre. While initially reluctant to compete in bear contests, Mannetti says the opportunity to raise money and awareness for LGBT organizations was enough to make him give it a shot. “Putting the spotlight on something bigger than our furry pecs was what motivated me,” he notes. “Although there’s no denying that I worked out hard before each contest!”

As for his insider’s take on the world of bear pageants? “It’s all glamour, fame, fur, sex, and backstabbing worthy of the crappiest reality show,” he shares. “Seriously, I think that a title, in and of itself, represents nothing. It’s what the individual chooses to do with the spotlight that any title offers them that make it stand for something.”


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  • jason

    I don’t consider them heroes at all. I consider them fetishists with a huge vanity streak. They exploit the misery of cows for the purpose of an event and an “award” from someone whose mouth drops leather purses when he speaks. I have no respect for the participants or their fetishes.

    Leather fetishists should stop shrouding their vanity streaks in the dignity of the gay rights notion.

  • TMO

    @Jason: MMM MMM this bacon cheeseburger sure is delicious!

  • jason


    Yes, I eat meat. But that’s not vanity. Humans eat meat out of necessity.

    These leather queens are all about saying “look at me, I said look at me, dammit”. A cow had to die to serve their egos.

  • MikeE

    @jason: there’s one particular cow I can easily imagine going the way of the dodo.

  • Max


    True, but as the article points out they’re using their vanity and drive for self-promotion for noble ends. Heroes? Perhaps not. Anti-heroes? I can go with that.

  • SteveC

    There’s no such thing as a ‘leather community’.

    Having a fetish for leather is not a sexual orientation.

    Still though – those folk are heroes. They are LGBT heroes who have a fetish for leather.

  • Eric in Chicago

    I would add Mr. Michigan Leather 2009 and current IML judge Dave Watt as a “Hero” in the leather community. He not only works for an HIV/AIDS organization but created MR FRIENDLY to reduce the stigma of HIV and encourage testing. (you can join Mr Friendly on FB). He travels all over the country trying to fight the Stigma of HIV. Beyond that he’s the nicest (and hottest) man you’ll ever meet. He’s awesome sauce.

  • Eric in Chicago

    @jason: You are a sad judgemental person. Nothing about what you said is true. The increase in neoprene and rubber at leather events is also a fact. Just an FYI. There are plenty of masculine men in the leather community. I know a lot of them. I dare you to say it to their faces.

  • Eric in Chicago

    @SteveC: If you don’t think there is such a thing as a leather community then you don’t know people in the leather community. I haven’t seen a group that gives back or supports one another as much as the leather community does.

  • Daez

    @jason: The vast majority of leather is taken as a byproduct from the meat industry. There is no reason to raise cattle just for leather. Unless you are also vegan.

  • Oh, ok

    Jason is Cam and Villa. Just a sad troll with multiple personalities saying dumb things for attention.

  • jason

    I’m sorry but these leather events are often masks for unfettered sexual activity. I suspect many of the participants look forward to their hotel room trysts as much as they do to winning the competition.

    And, please, don’t give me this bull about how concerned some of these leather guys are about AIDS. LOL. That’s like an arsonist putting out a statement about the need to reduce kindling. It’s not believable.

    Many of these leather guys actually create the conditions which cause illnesses.

  • shannon


  • Eric in Chicago

    @shannon: Obviously you haven’t been to IML in Chicago – there are so many hot men you don’t know where to look first!!!

  • Eric in Chicago

    @jason: What’s wrong with people looking forward to hotel room trysts? Nothing. Winning the contest is about so much more than that – just read the experience of anyone who has won. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Your satement about leather and AIDS is really ignoranat as well – lots of Leather sex include things that have nothing to do with exchanging fluids or risk of HIV/AIDS.

  • Mike

    LMAO IML and the “Leather Community” are all about vanity, how many leather contests you win as a sash queen, and about how much money you spend on expensive leather clothing that you wear in contests.

    A lot of men who are into leather and/or BDSM such as myself find the contests like IML to be a total joke and they pretty much always have been.

    Most people who go to IML could care less about the contest but they just want to hook up. If they practice safer sex or decide not to that is their choice.

  • IML Veteran

    I agree with comment #16 since it’s true.

    I’ve been to IML a few times over various decades and IML/leather and such events are not about leather and or fetishes/kinks or consensual BDSM but about primadonna sash queens on stage wearing very expensive pieces of leather, and it’s always been about hooking up first and foremost.

  • Martin

    LMAO not surprisingly IML is not the type of event where gay and bisexual men who are actually masculine and into leather go to. Then again many people who are into leather and/or BDSM such as myself find leather contests to be a total joke.

  • Peter

    Eric in Chicago-The leather “community” does not give back. Sure they may have very expensive cover charges that they claim go to charities or non-profit orgs but if you’ve ever researched where most of the money that gets donated to charities and non-profit orgs goes very little if any actually goes to the people that these groups are set up and supposed to help and most of it goes to the people who are in charge of these charities and orgs.

    Chuck Renslow owns a bath house, makes lots of money from this bath house and from IML and his bath house freely allows people to bareback and use meth.

  • Tyler

    @Eric-You have no idea what you’re writing about. I have met A LOT of men who go to IML and they tell me how they like to do it bb/raw or have anal sex without condoms and a lot of them are into meth, and fist or get fisted up the ass without gloves and could care less about their own sexual health let alone the sexual health of all the men they do it raw with.

  • Jeff

    Damn Danny Logan isn’t even 30 and he’s HIV+ and has been for awhile, that’s just sad. If he wanted to be a bug chaser and intentionally become HIV+ which is what happened that’s his choice to be an idiot.

    Secondly he’s a drag queen, not masculine at all, and shouldn’t be in any sort of leather contest.

  • Donald

    WTF is a woman or Tra nny like “Tyler McCormick” doing entering in IML?

    I guess this now means that if I or any other men want to enter leather contests for women we have every right to do so now. 😉

Comments are closed.