By Dale Madison
One of the most organized and activist groups in the LGBT community is our “leather men,” those Levi’s and leather hombres who sport a look that is two parts Schwarzenegger in “Commando,” three parts Brando in “The Wild One,” and ALL parts man. Known for their generosity to those in need, South Florida’s Leather Community has been extremely generous over the years, sponsoring and participating in numerous activities, building floats for the Stonewall Street Festival and Pridefest, conducting the “Sleazy Awards,” and hosting dozens of military-themed leather and jeans events.
In December, the Leather Man’s Brotherhood donated $20,000, which was divided between Broward House’s gay teen suicide prevention efforts and the Chicago-based Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M). The donation totals a full five percent of LA&M’s operating budget, according to its executive director, Rick Storer.
The spring’s hottest leather event was the Black Heart Uniform Ball, which was held in April at BOOM! nightclub, in Wilton Manors. The Uniform Ball, sponsored by Fort Lauderdale Leather Pride (FTLLP, Inc.), a Florida not-for-profit corporation was held as a community-building event, by which standard it was hugely successful, along with benefitting Broward House’s new cancer support initiative, and the Leather Archives & Museum.
Bear Man, Eric Lawrence, and Ira Smith, are well-known faces among South Florida’s leather men, and they have seen many changes and taking part in many socials and fundraisers with the Boys in Levi’s and Chaps. “There were so many participants in the past, that we have had to grow to a couple of events a year,” explains Lawrence, who serves as FTLLP’s president. “Years ago, Marie Wansiki—with the now defunct Wansiki Foundation—began a leather party, which consisted of mostly guys in uniforms. It grew into what is now the Leather Mask Ball.”
The group’s first Black Heart Uniform Ball more than exceeded expectations. “This year, we divided the proceeds from the Black Heart Ball—$10,000—between the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago and Broward House for their youth services program,” notes Bear Man. “Later this year we will be having the mortgageburning party for the Museum, and we will announce that date soon,” he adds.
Lawrence, Bear Man, and Smith are philosophical about the portrayal of “bears” and leather men, and say that their object is to have a great time while making a difference in the lives of their— and our—community. “People may have the incorrect perspective of the Bear community,” Smith offers. “It’s all about being informed and educated.”