Leather Life: Leather Pride Flag 101
June 26, 2021: A photo from the 2021 community photo shoot with the giant Leather Pride flag. Photo by Larry Barthel
Consider the Leather Pride flag: Nine stripes—four black, four blue, one white—with a red heart in the upper left corner. It’s a nice-looking flag, yes. But the Leather Pride flag’s importance, as with all flags, comes from the community it represents and the values it symbolizes. With that in mind, here are some basics both of the Leather Pride flag in general—and of Minnesota’s supersized version of it.
Origins of the Leather Pride flag: The Leather Pride flag was designed by Anthony F. (Tony) DeBlase, a noted artist, writer, editor and publisher. DeBlase was involved with many leather/SM publications over many years, including Drummer Magazine.
DeBlase’s idea for a Leather Pride flag was first presented to the community at the International Mr. Leather contest in Chicago on May 28, 1989. DeBlase intended the flag presented then as a “first draft,” a starting point on the way to a final flag design created by community consensus. He was surprised when the community accepted and adopted the flag as it was presented, with no alterations or modifications. The way the flag was presented in 1989 is pretty much the way the flag has been seen, and flown, ever since.
Even though it’s called a “Leather Pride” flag, it encompasses leather, levis, BDSM, uniforms, cowboys, latex, and every other fetish that is identified as part of the leather/ BDSM/fetish community. And just as the leather community includes all genders and sexual orientations, so the Leather Pride flag is not an exclusively gay symbol.
Symbolism of the Leather Pride flag: DeBlase, the flag’s creator, has said he had no specific symbolism in mind when he designed the Leather Pride flag. He preferred that individuals or the community assign their own interpretation, symbolism and meanings to the flag. Over the years, this has happened.
One common symbolism attached to the Leather Pride flag is this: the black is for black leather; the blue is for blue denim; the white stripe in the middle is for integrity; and the red heart symbolizes love. Other interpretations of the flag’s white stripe include symbolizing purity, safety, and solidarity with novices in the BDSM scene. Other interpretations of the red heart include symbolizing respect, understanding, and consent.
Origins of Minnesota’s giant Leather Pride flag: Minnesota’s giant Leather Pride and rainbow flags made their first appearance in the annual Twin Cities Pride Parade on June 28, 1998. (Known for many years as the Ashley Rukes LGBT Pride Parade, the parade is now called the LGBTQ+ March.)
Every year since 1998, these giant flags have been a part of the parades because of the efforts of two gay leathermen, Colin Spriestersbach and Carl Gscheidmeier (also known as “Miss Allison Brooks,” the legendary drag queen). In the late 1990s, both Spriestersbach and Gscheidmeier were members of the Black Guard of Minneapolis, and Spriestersbach was on the Pride board.
Spriestersbach originally asked Gscheidmeier about sewing a large rainbow flag to begin the Pride parade. Spriestersbach envisioned a large flag carried by one person. But Gscheidmeier proposed two giant flags—rainbow and Leather Pride—“curb-to-curb and a block long” to lead the parade.
That’s exactly what ended up being created. Spriestersbach provided the materials, and Gscheidmeier spent three and a half months sewing both flags. According to Gscheidmeier, both flags were about 75 feet long and 50 feet wide. That made Minnesota’s giant Leather Pride flag the largest such flag in existence.
The two giant flags were carried by community members at the beginning of every year’s Pride parade until 2008, when the original Leather Pride flag was decommissioned in an elaborate pre-parade ceremony.. That original giant Leather Pride flag was sent to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, where it is now the largest single item in their collection.
Minnesota’s giant Pride flags, second edition: At the same ceremony in 2008 in which the original giant Leather Pride flag was decommissioned, a new giant Leather Pride flag was introduced. (A new giant rainbow flag was introduced the following year.) These two new giant flags appeared at the beginning of each year’s Pride parade through 2019, the last Pride parade to date because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the end of each year’s Pride parade, a tradition has evolved: taking a photograph of the giant Leather Pride flag, spread out on a lawn and surrounded by the people who just carried it in the parade. Even though there were no Pride parades in 2020 or 2021, the tradition of the Leather Pride flag photo shoot has continued—and has even been enhanced by the use of an aerial drone to take the photograph.
Shown in this article is one of the photographs from the 2021 Leather Pride flag photo shoot coordinated by the Minnesota Leather Pride organization. The photograph was taken June 26, 2021, in Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
Here’s hoping Minnesota’s two giant Pride flags will be able to make an appearance at the beginning of a Pride parade in 2022. When you see them, remember that they are in the parade because of the inspiration and actions of two gay leathermen, and the flags’ continuing presence in the parade is also a testament to the Black Guard of Minneapolis.