What is International Mr. Leather?
International Mr. Leather is an annual competition and awards held in Chicago, Illinois. It serves the gay leather subculture and is one of the largest leather gatherings in the world. Though held in America it has attendees from all over the world and every nationality.
International Mr. Leather, IML for short, was established in 1979 in Chicago, Illinois. It was the result of a previous annual competition at Chicago’s Gold Coast leather bar. “Mr. Gold Coast” as the competition was known then was started by Gold Coast owner and his partner at the time, Dom Orejudos.
Field of expertise
International Mr. Leather is exclusively for the leather community, or leathermen as they’re called. In order to become a contestant at IML, one must first win a local or smaller competition at another bar or festival. The International Mr. Leather contest consists of a preliminary and final round.
The preliminary round is scored by nine judges and consists of the following two events:
- Contestants are privately interviewed by all nine judges. Interviews count for 60% of the preliminary score and are up to eight minutes in length.
- Personality and stage presence. This portion of the judging takes place at “Pecs and Personality” event held on the Saturday of the event. It accounts for 40% of the preliminary score.
Out of the original contestants, twenty are selected to pass on to the final round. Judges score these competitors on a scale of 0 – 100 on the following criteria:
- Leather Image – This counts for up to 40 points of the score.
- Presentation Skills – This includes a speech from the contestant and also counts for up to 40 points.
- Physical Appearance – This criterion counts for 20 points of the final score.
In the final judging, the highest and lowest scores are dropped. The remaining seven are added together and the top three scores determine the winner. There is a first and second runner up, with the winner being crowned that year’s International Mr. Leather.
After the “Mr. Gold Coast” competition outgrew its original venue, Chuck Renslow decided to move it to a new and larger venue. He subsequently renamed it to International Mr. Leather in 1979.
In 1989 Tony DeBlase invented the leather pride flag which was presented at that year’s competition. In 1993 the event began running an International Mister Bootblack Competition to serve the submissive side of the community.
In 2010 and 2018, the International Mr. Leather competition was inducted into Chicago’s Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame and the Leather Hall of Fame, respectively. The former being done at Cleveland Ohio’s Leather Annual Weekend. It has been one of the largest and most visible events for the leather community.
In 2009 the IML decided that it would no longer work with any companies or groups that promote barebacking. Barebacking is the practice of having unprotected anal sex among gay men and one of the primary causes of transmission for HIV and AIDS.
Related practices and fetishes
IML exclusively serves the gay leather subculture and bootblacking subcultures. There is also an International Ms. Leather competition for women and lesbians.