Leather Life: Leather Pride Memories, Year By Year
The 2020 version of the traditional community photo with the giant Leather Pride flag—this time, an aerial photo created using a drone. Photo by Larry Barthel
For the second year in a row, the Twin Cities Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride annual celebrations have been curtailed. So here is a nostalgic look back, year by year, at my memories of previous Minnesota Leather Pride celebrations.
1994: The first Leather Pride celebration I ever attended was a post-Pride-Parade gathering in the upstairs bar at the Gay 90s. 1994 also was the year of the first annual collectible Minnesota Leather Pride dog tag.
1995: The Pride Parade did not always follow its now-traditional route up Hennepin Ave. to Loring Park. The second installment of this Leather Life column noted that the “Meeting place for the Leather Contingent is on Willow between 14th St. and the Berger Fountain” on the eastern edge of Loring Park. The post-parade Leather Pride gathering was again at the Gay 90s and featured “entertainment, a bootblack, jail, body piercings, temporary tattoos, and haircuts by Vince, the Master Barber.”
1996: This year’s leather contingent in the Pride parade rode on a Leather Pride float with twin propane-fueled “Flames of Liberation,” a rainbow-flag display, leather club banners, and a motorcycle. The ride ended with a spectacular balloon-release finale.
1997: Because this year’s Pride Festival was held across the Mississippi River from downtown, the parade (and the leather contingent) marched down Hennepin Ave., crossed the river, and ended up at the festival grounds on Main Street.
1998 was a pivotal year. Leather Pride expanded to a 3-day celebration: a Friday night at The Town House in St. Paul; a Saturday-evening Sundown Supper at Minnesota Bar and Grill in the Cedar-Riverside area; and a Leather Pride Wind-Down Sunday evening at Tropix.
This was the first year for the Leather Pride booth at the Festival of Pride in Loring Park. Since then, the Leather Pride booth always has been our turf at the Pride Festival—a place for leatherfolk to crash, to chill, to socialize, to see and be seen, and to do outreach.
Also, 1998 was the year that the giant Rainbow and Leather Pride flags made their first appearances in the Pride Parade. For the first time, the leather contingent was toward the front of the parade in one group. By the time the parade reached the park the two huge flags had collected many pounds of change, thrown there by spectators along the parade route. I heard several people voicing the same thing I was feeling: “This was fun—let’s go back and do it again!”
1999: The newly opened Minneapolis Eagle hosted several Leather Pride events including a Sunday-evening Minnesota Leather Pride Barbecue, with a bullwhip demo and a titleholder dunk tank.
2000: My most vivid memory of this year’s Leather Pride weekend festivities was getting my head shaved on Saturday evening by leather barber Vince on the patio of the Minneapolis Eagle.
2001-2003: The annual Leather Pride celebration kept growing, adding the first annual Kinky Poetry Reading event in 2002. By 2003 Leather Pride included more than a week’s worth of activities.
2004: This year’s Leather Pride theme was “United in Spirit” and the theme of leather/ BDSM spirituality was woven through many of the celebration’s events. Presenters at the events were noted local and national leather/BDSM activists and educators including Cleo Dubois and Fakir Musafar, bullwhip expert Robert Dante, dominatrix Amanda Wildefyre and, from London, International Mr. Leather 2003 John Pendal. Events, spread over ten days, included demonstrations, workshops, a leather spirituality roundtable, and a “Spirit+Flesh: Ecstatic Rites” ritual. This also was the first year for Floggapalooza, a large-scale celebration of flogging as a BDSM practice. Sunday’s Pride Parade took place in spite of soggy weather.
2005: A series of four Leather Roundtable discussions were held: leather/BDSM roles and relationships; rituals, protocol and conventions; leather clubs, cliques, and organizations; and “sparking the future.” A “triple threat” afternoon of classes at Patrick’s Cabaret covered electricity, fire play, and hot wax—plus bonus liquid latex demonstrations. There also was a leather/fetish swap meet.
2006: Educational events this year included a Leather Smorgasbord, an afternoon of workshops on humiliation, water sports and positions of submission, and a temporary piercing workshop the next day. This year’s Floggapalooza, held at The Saloon, introduced a new feature: Cane-o-rama. By 2006, thirteen organizations were sponsors for the annual Minnesota Leather Pride celebration.
2007: Events on the patio of the Minneapolis Eagle included a Leather/Fetish Smokeout ,cigar/pipe social, and a Dog and Pony Show (human division) where folks could meet the human animals and their trainers.
2008: This year’s Minnesota Leather Pride celebration listed twenty events. One of them was the first-ever Bondage Slam: a bondage showcase followed by a bondage contest, complete with judged events and prizes. The Leather Pride booth during the Pride Festival in Loring Park added a very popular leather art and photography gallery. And, in a stirring and memorable pre-parade ceremony, the giant Leather Pride flag from 1998 was decommissioned and a new giant Leather Pride flag was unfurled (Watch the ceremony at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLF5-VFGC7A ).
2009: In another memorable pre-parade ceremony, the other giant flag from 1998, the Rainbow Pride flag, was decommissioned and a new giant Rainbow Pride flag was unfurled. Members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community participated in, and were instrumental in creating the ceremony.
2010-2018: By this time Minnesota’s Leather Pride celebration had grown into one of the biggest Leather Pride celebrations in the country. New events were added, including Leather Pride Motorcycle Rides in 2012 and 2014, leather/BDSM/fetish fashion shows in 2013 and 2014, and a coffee bust (like a beer bust, but with coffee) at Twin Cities Leather & Latte in 2016.
Starting in 2014, Minnesota Leather Pride expanded geographically by being visible at other regional pride festivals, including those in Des Moines, Iowa, and Fargo/Moorhead. Minnesota Leather Pride also expanded beyond the month of June by having quarterly events throughout the year. Game-show events, including “Leather Families Feuding” and “Kinky Squares,” were popular and fun (Your humble columnist thoroughly enjoyed being the emcee/moderator for “Kinky Squares”). Other new Leather Pride events were the Mr/Miss Catastrophe parody contests as well as the inauguration of three new real, community-sponsored title contests: Minnesota Leather Sir, Minnesota Leatherboy and Ms Minnesota Leather Pride.
In 2015, Minnesota Leather Pride started the “American Leather Stories” project. Leather stories were collected from community members, posted on the Minnesota Leather Pride website (www.mnleatherpride.org), and shared with the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago.
2019: Because of construction on Hennepin Ave. the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade (that’s the parade’s official name) marched up 2nd Ave. instead, traveling from 3rd St. to Loring Park. In addition to the two large Rainbow and Leather Pride parade flags there were large flags for bisexual and transgender pride and a US Unity flag. Some members of the parade’s leather contingent carried smaller flags representing pansexual, genderqueer and non-binary pride; pride flags for bears, rubberwear enthusiasts, and puppies and handlers; and a BDSM rights flag. Pride was expanding in new ways. It was a great day.
And at the time, no one knew this would be the last Pride Parade for a while.
2020: And then, suddenly, it ended. Many beloved traditions, including the Pride Festival and Minnesota Leather Pride events, came to a screeching halt because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. However, a small group of folks were able to get together to continue the annual tradition of a community photo with the giant Leather Pride flag—this time with a drone, carrying a camera, flying above the flag and the socially distanced leather/BDSM/fetish community members.
2021: It has been announced that a scaled-back GLBTQ Pride Festival will be held July 17-18, 2021 (but again this year, no Pride parade). At this writing, details of possible Minnesota Leather Pride events (a Leather Pride booth at the Pride Festival? A Leather Pride flag photo shoot? Something else?) are still being determined.
I hope my memories above of past Pride celebrations do not represent a vanished era. I hope both GLBTQ Pride and Leather Pride can continue in a form that fits the post-Covid era.