2013 marks two major milestones in the St. Louis leather community – the 30th anniversary of Mr. Missouri Leather and the 40th anniversary of the founding of Gateway MC, which produces the annual contest.
According to Ed Laxton, a charter member of St. Louis’ oldest leather club, Gateway got its start when his friend came back from traveling the country and described the new Levi/Leather bars that were cropping up in gay communities in larger cities.
The community of bars in St. Louis in the late 1960s could be cliquish clubs and their camp and flamboyant sub culture pervaded both sides of the river. Indeed, the feel was definitely more The Boys in the Band than Brokeback Mountain.
“No one knew anything different,” says Laxton. “It’s just the way things were then.”
But due in large part to the liberating influence of the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, LGBTers nationwide became more open and developed a sense of community. Gay men who did not identify with drag queens or effeminate-acting men looked for a way to establish their identity and find others who shared their interests.
Laxton and a group of friends began going out to St. Louis gay bars wearing their Levis and leather – admittedly, they got a few concerned looks when entering as a group but were soon begrudgingly embraced as one of the family. They also discovered a shared interest in motorcycles.
Gay motorcycle clubs began to appear between 1970 and 1975. The practice of referring to gatherings of clubs as "runs" came from these early years when many runs were outdoors and centered on motorcycle events.
“The 2nd City Cycle Club of Chicago and Wranglers in Dallas assisted Gateway in forming their club in 1973,” explains Laxton. “The gay motorcycle scene caught on like wildfire and clubs were popping up all over the country. By 1975, the Mid-America conference of clubs was formed with about 25 clubs from all over the Midwest. This was done to promote brotherhood and coordinate dates of club events.”
Gateway MC, all of whose founding members were cyclists, required its members had to have motorcycles, and most of the activities were cycle related. Eventually, like other such clubs around the country, Gateway developed into a men's social organization in which motorcycles were not the only focus. Activities broadened to encompass the Levi/Leather community as a whole and its need for its own identity, events and network of brotherhood.
St. Louis has enjoyed one of the largest and most active leather communities in the Midwest over the years. At its zenith the early 1980s, the St. Louis Council of Clubs consisted of Gateway MC, Blue Max CC, Spirit of St. Louis and Bacchus. Today, Gateway and Blue Max are the only two surviving gay leather clubs in the city.
“The camaraderie was great and I met a lot of wonderful men,” says Beal. “I still keep in touch with many of them.”
Mr. Missouri Leather
Gateway, whose original home bar was in the Bob Martin’s complex by Union Station, held a variety of leather contests in its early years – but the first official Mr. Missouri Leather contest didn’t occur until 1983.
“Reflecting back on that period, I think Gateway was interested being represented in the national leather picture by sending someone to the International Mr. Leather (IML) contest,” adds Laxton. “All the bigger cities were sending someone there.”
Mr. Missouri Leather (MML) is the oldest leather competition sponsored by the same organization in the nation. Some 28 men have had the privilege to hold the title – Charlie Scheib is the only man to hold the title twice, 1983 and 1985. MML has had numerous men make it to the top 20 and several have gone on to make it into the top 10 at IML in Chicago. Indeed, Mr. Missouri Leather 2013 will have some big boots to fill.
“Missouri has a strong and vibrant leather community,” offers Terry Laupp, who held the title of Mr. Missouri Leather in 2010 and is one of the organizers of this year’s event. “At this year's contest we are hoping to have the most past Mr. Missouri Leather titleholders ever in attendance.”
The 30th MML contest will be held March 1-3, 2013. All events are at JJ's Clubhouse (3858 Market St. - StL). The weekend will kick off with a “Meet and Greet” on Friday night at 10 pm. for the contestants, judges and MML 2012 Scott O'Brien. The annual MML silent auction presented by Gateway MC and a used
Saturday will start for the contestants at 1 pm. at JJ's for their interviews – this part of the competition is not open to the public. The weekend will continue at 10 pm. with the Mr. Missouri Leather 2013 competition, admission $10. The contestants will be judged on Cruise wear, Physique and Personality, Formal wear as well as deliver a short speech to the crowd. The silent auction and used leather sale will continue throughout the evening. Final bids for the auction will be tallied as the contest comes to a close.
The newly sashed Mr. Missouri Leather 2013 will receive a sponsorship to IML 2013, $100, a title sash and much more. Second place will receive $100, with third place receiving $50. The informal Gateway Guy contest has been a feature of the Mr. Missouri Leather contest to actively involve more people in the event and perhaps to encourage future contestants for Mr. Missouri Leather.
The weekend will conclude on Sunday morning with the Mr. Missouri Leather Victory Brunch at Hamburger Mary's St. Louis (3037 Olive St. - StL) from 11 am to 2 pm.
“Involvement in the leather community doesn't end when your title year is over,” says Laupp. “Mr. Missouri Leather has a rich history and a very bright future.”
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