The world of leather has long been a place where men of different shapes, sizes, colors, and leather getups get to express themselves as a whole to those in the scene and outside of it. Over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, the annual International Mr. Leather competition which brings men of leather from around the world together, showcased yet again just how diverse the sub-genre of the LGBTQ community really is.
Jack Thompson, the reigning Leatherman of Color 2019, beat out nearly 70 other titleholders to win International Mr. Leather 2019. This year’s competition in its 41st year marked the first time a trans man of color has won the title. Thompson’s win follows the win of Tyler McCormick who was the first trans man to win International Mr. Leather in 2010 according to Out.
Thompson, who is black, stood above his competitors during the physique competition where he wore a leather Transgender Flag jockstrap. He spoke to Out after his win about feelings of inadequacy, saying he often felt, “not strong enough, not black enough, not smart enough.”
“There are people in this room right now that don’t believe I’m man enough to be on this stage,” he told Out. At Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend in April, Thompson told Out that he was initially afraid that a rumored IML policy would bar him from competing. That policy was said to require all contestants to have a male gender marker on their government-issued ID. Thompson was assured by IML organizers that this was never a policy of the event.
“If you’re enough for you, then you are enough, period,” he said on stage. “I’m Jack Thompson and I’m a proud biracial, openly transgender, HIV-positive man and I am enough.” he closed. The speech was the only speech of the night to receive a standing ovation.
David Campbell, Mr. Atlanta Leather 2018, competed alongside Thompson, a competitor he said owned his identity and allowed the judges to see that diversity as a strength.
“He fit in because he was so upfront and genuine. Being a trans person of color was a huge part of his identity. There was never a flinch or hesitation when talking about it. That’s what made him so approachable,” said Campbell.
He met Thompson for the first time at Mid-Atlantic Leather in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, and immediately, the two hit it off. “I was really excited that the two of us were going to be in the same class together,” he said.
Months later, reconnecting at IML, Campbell knew something was special about his 2019 class. He’d been attending IML for years, but this year, he was in a different role as a competitor and he got to see just how diverse his competitors were. There were two trans contestants, men of all shapes and sizes, and a sense of brotherhood that didn’t allow competition to separate them from a bigger goal; to empower everyone in the leather community.
“I’m a little bit bigger than some of the contestants,” he said. “I had some guys say seeing guys of my body type makes me feel more empowered here in the community. In a broader sense, to have a trans person of color now making a statement for other people that the doors are open and you have a place here.”
The backlash came against now-former Southeast Conference of Clubs president Craig MrCode after he posted a news article after Thompson’s win, saying the decision was politically motivated. He was ousted less than 24-hours after his posts were made.
“I am happy for the winner, BUT it is International MR. Leather,” MrCode wrote in his initial post which has since been deleted. Thompson was the first Black trans man to win the title. “He identifies as a man. But not born a man. I feel that the decision is politically motivated. Now this is just my opinion,” stated MrCode in his Facebook post.
Immediately, members of Thompson’s class, previous title winners, and other members of the leather community stepped forward to stand behind the newly crowned IML winner and to take a stand against transphobia.
Merlin Onyx, president of ONYX Southeast, posted to the organizations Facebook page after seeing comments made by MrCode.
“You can, therefore, imagine the shock and dismay we experienced when Craig expressed his opinion on our new Mr. IML 2019, Jack Thompson, who is a full brother of ONYX and proud transman,” said Onyx. “We couldn’t be any happier with Jack and are looking forward to what he brings to his title year. While we should be rejoicing, we now must take time to address transphobia from the leadership of SECC.”
On Tuesday night, Sir Wayne released an official SECC statement regarding its former president’s comments. “SECC wishes to express our deepest disappointment in the recent posts from Craig MrCode regarding Jack Thompson, the current Mr. International Leather 2019,” he said. “His comments conflict with the inclusive nature of our by-laws and the spirit of our family in Brotherhood/Sisterhood. The post stands in direct opposition to the conference’s purpose of encouraging diversity and inclusion.”
Nitro Hankinson, president of Atlanta Leather Pride, told the Georgia Voice, “If you meet the qualifications of the title, who is anybody to question that? One of the guidelines for entering the competition is that you have to be legally identified as a man, and Thompson identifies as a man.”
Campbell says through this entire experience and even a handful of negative comments towards Thompson, the exposure of IML’s diversity has benefited the leather community as a whole.
“There were two trans contestants, and I just think about how many people saw them up on that stage, and say I now have a place in this community, and they might not have felt like that before,” he said.