LA Leather Pride week begins this Sunday. We spoke with Marlon Morales, Chairman of LA Leather Pride and 2012 Mr. LA Leather title-holder (center in the picture) about the leather community, how the contest works, what to expect during LA Leather Pride and how you can get your leather on!
How are contestants judged in the Mr. LA Leather contest? I understand there are different categories like interview, jock strap, etc. Could you tell me what the categories are and what the judges look for?
Contestants are scored based on an 8 minute interview with judges the morning of the contest - this counts for 40%. Contest night counts for 60% and is divided into Formal Speech (20%), Bar Wear (20%) and Jock (20%). What the judges are looking for is determined by the instructions given to them by the chair of the committee (me) before they go into interviews: “Choose someone approachable, he should stand for something or be passionate; choose someone who you relate to; he does not have to be the best looking but he should exude charisma and that unexplainable characteristic that will leave you with that 'he’s the one' feeling.”
That's it. It's very open ended and we do that on purpose. The caliber of individuals we select as judges and their lived experience in the scene fills in the rest. So far we have selected amazing guys for the Mr. LA Leather title.
Tell us how you first became interested in leather and the community. How old were you? What sparked the interest? How have you personally evolved in the process?
I knew I was gay for as long as I remember AND In my adolescence I realized I liked rough and rugged men…and that led me into leather. I was once a title-holder myself, Mr. LA Leather in 2012 and went on to place 4th at international Mr. Leather (IML) 2012 which was the highest in recent history (best since 2007) we’ve placed until Patrick Smith who won for LA the IML title last May.
So having been a contestant I decided to produce contests to improve the experience for those who came after me and help generate community pride among festival and contest attendees.
LA Leather pride is a full week of events beginning on Sunday, March 27th and ending on Monday, April 4th at 2:00 AM when the closing party concludes. That's a lot of events and planning. Tell us about the organization(s) that put together the events. How are they funded? Is there any charitable aspect to the event?
LA Leather Pride is a festival produced by the Los Angeles Leather Coalition (LALC) a 501 C 4 non profit advocacy organization. 9 board members and 22 community representatives help guide year-round advocacy, educational and community engagement programs about sexual freedom issues such as BDSM/Kink/Leather. It’s all volunteer. (LA Leather Pride week is just one of many programs!)
Operating with a modest budget, the organization makes surplus funds available to 3 charities through its LA Leather pride event: The Tom of Finland Foundation, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) based in Kampala, Uganda. SMUG advocates for the protection and promotion of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans.
The LA Mr. Leather contest is a big event. How are the contestants selected and what criteria is used?
There are 10 feeder contests…bars, clubs and organizations sponsor a contestant which they select according to their own criteria and needs for someone to represent them. Then all 10 guys run for one LA wide title to represent LA at International Mr. Leather.
Each of the 10 is very unique because of this. Over the years there have been more and there have been less feeder contest in LA. It all depends, this year we have 10.
What responsibilities if any does Mr. LA Leather assume?
Each Mr. LA Leather has had something they were passionate about. Our only real requirement (literally in the application) is that they must go to Chicago in May and compete (and hopefully win) the international title. The rest is their passion and up to Mr. LA Leather to decide what he wants to do with his year. We are so lucky in LA that the platform we give the men really helps create some amazing projects. Those projects are their initiative and we as community just help them by giving them a platform. As you can see from Patrick Smith global advocacy was important and we are proud that the LA title has helped bring attention to places around the world wear it really is still very dangerous to be openly LGBT.
We have witnessed and celebrated the victories of Patrick Smith (pictured), LAL 2015 and now International Mr. Leather (IML) 2015. Patrick is a shining example of the possibilities for personal growth and community service available to titleholders at any level. While we readily acknowledge that any person can do great things in service to his community (no title necessary); we believe having the recognition of being a Los Angeles titleholder provides a platform from which to achieve greatness.
The LA Leather Community is bigger than many of us think and there are many dimensions to it. You mentioned to me earlier that there are 22 LA Leather Coalition members. I was stunned to hear that. When many of us outsiders think of leather, we think of Bondage, S&M and kink.
What is the common thread that brings such a diverse group of people together? I see that this year's theme is "Bound", which according to some of the literature I've read online refers to "the kinky ties that bind the diverse members of our L.A. Leather community." Do most leather groups have sexual undertones?
It’s really a wide range of interests and perspectives, some very personal others very public. You can spend a lifetime exploring this. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s a perfect theme this year, “BOUND” – celebrating the kinky ties that bind the diverse members of our L.A. Leather Community. We celebrate the varity of ages, genders and ethnicities that make possible our world-renown dynamic leather/fetish scene, woven together by the Los Angeles Leather Coalition since 1999.
Sexual undertones? Well yes, sex is good and healthy, natural part of being human. The leather community is a rich part of the LGBT community where you won’t find judgment, and you will be encouraged to know your likes/dislikes sexually better; it’s the place that is not afraid to push the boundaries and fight becoming just ordinary.
Nothing dull about us! And isn’t that awesome we were the first to sound the call to support
PrEP for example—a no brainer.
One thing that I have observed in reading and seeing photos of leather events is that there is a huge diversity in terms of age, race and body types. It seems to be a very accepting community, but the leather and uniforms can be intimidating to a newbie. How would you recommend that someone who is interested in becoming involved get their feet wet?
Participating in the LA Leather pride week of events is one of the best ways to get started. It’s easy because so many people come out and you can find what interests you. It’s a great way to hear names and meet trusted leaders who can guide someone new to the scene. And in a place like LA where it all began you can find everything. That’s why I keep hearing people come here to find something to be a part of. LA leather pride celebrates all that diversity.
For more information, visit:
LA Leather Pride Events:
GLORY BOUND: LA Leather Pride 2016 Kick Off Party
March 27 @ 2:00 pm - 7:00 pm
VIP COCKTAIL RECEPTION
March 30 @ 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
TIGHTENING BONDS: Official Meet & Greet
March 31 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
ROPE BURN: The Roast of Patrick Smith
March 31 @ 10:00 pm - 11:30 pm
April 1 @ 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Rough Trade Gear
LEATHER DOG POUND
April 1 @ 9:00 pm - 11:55 pm
Cigar Social – Presented by Eagle LA & Maximus
April 1 @ 9:00 pm - 11:55 pm
DESERT BONDS – EARN YOUR COLORS BEER BUST
April 2 @ 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
MR. LOS ANGELES LEATHER 2016
April 2 @ 6:30 pm - 10:00 pm
LEGION dance party
April 2 @ 10:00 pm - April 3 @ 3:00 am
OFF SUNSET FESTIVAL
April 3 @ 11:00 am - 7:00 pm
Santa Monica Blvd in Silverlake