Wednesday, May 27, 2009

ACT UP -- For Marriage Rights?

On May 27th, 2009, the California Supreme Court declared Proposition 8 a valid amendment to the state consitution. These wise dudes in their black robes reached this decision apparently by daisy-picking. "It is; it isn't; it is; it isn't." You have a fundamental right to marry; you don't have a fundamental right to marry. A curious person might wonder just how these wise dudes in black robes define "fundamental."

Then again, a curious person might wonder when gay people are going to get tired of asking nicely -- of begging -- to be treated as full American citizens. Maybe it's time to stop asking and start demanding. I remember in the early days of the AIDS epidemic we walked through the streets singing, "We are gentle, peaceful people." That got us sore feet and blisters. But the landscape changed when Larry Kramer founded ACT UP.

Even Ghandi recognized the value of non-violent direct action. We made a good start when we exposed the names of Proposition 8 supporters. We made another start when we boycotted some of those businesses that made sizable contributions to Proposition 8. And we took the next steps when, following the California Supreme Court's cowardly decision, gay activists shut down various intersections and blocked streets. Maybe we need a lot more of this kind of action.

As we celebrate Gay Pride throughout this month, maybe this is the single image we should all hold in our heads.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Congratulations Mr. IML 2009 - Jeffrey Payne!

Photograph by BULLmanX, official photographer to the International Mr. Leather competition.

Congratulations to Jeffrey Payne, Mr. Texas Leather and now International Mr. Leather 2009.

First runner-up went to Brendan McGovern, Mr. Ottowa Leather 2009. Second runner-up went to Alan Penrod, Mr. Atlanta Leather 2009.

According to the latest issue of the Leather Journal, the IML competition this year expected a field of 52 competitors. Due to other commitments, I didn't attend this year, so I'd sincerely appreciate any first-hand reports from any Conversion Therapy readers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


CT Interviews -- Peter Schwartz, Mr New York Eagle 2008

Photograph by Dana Rowe

I met Peter Schwartz, Mr. New York Eagle 2008, last fall when he served as one of the judges for the Mr. Bootleggers’ Leather Contest in Kansas City, Mo. When I walked in on Friday evening for the introduction phase of the competition, I discovered that no contestants had stepped forward. I was in full leather, and to my surprise, I found one of the contest organizers on one elbow urging me to enter. Shortly, two judges presented themselves with the same request. One of those was Peter Schwartz. More than just a handsome man, Peter had a charisma and “presence” that caught my attention right away. He was someone I wanted to know. And I don’t mean that in a sexual sense.

Ultimately, I could not finish the competition. Family obligations kept me away from the Saturday night finals. However I did have the opportunity to chat with Peter Friday evening and through the interview portion of the competition the next day. When I decided to begin this series of interviews for, I knew that I wanted to launch it with him.

Storm: Could you speak just a bit about your background? How long have you been active in the leather community? Have you held any titles other than Mr. NY Eagle 2008? What leather clubs are you a member of, if any?

Peter: I was born and raised in Mohegan Lake, NY (about 40 miles north of the city). I went to school upstate, and then proceeded to travel around the country for work for a few years when I graduated. I eventually settled back in NY and have been living in the city since 1990. I’ve been active in the leather community really only since 2002, but I’ve always had a fascination for it from when I first went to The Spike when I moved into the city in the 90s. The re-emergence of my interest really came about when I met my partner as we started to explore this further together. Since then I’ve held the title of Mr. Eagle in 2008. I don’t have any other titles and don’t plan on getting another one. I loved it. It was a lot of work, but it’s time to pass the torch.

As for clubs, I’m an associate member of the NY Boys of Leather, but that’s about it. I don’t know that I would call this a club, but I’m co-captain of Team Eagle ( with my partner.

Storm: Are you partnered? What do you do for a living? What’s life in New York like for Peter Schwartz?

Peter: Yep … about 6 years now. A great guy named Rick, who was Mr. Eagle the year before me actually.

I work in IT and have since I graduated college. I’ve always enjoyed technology and for the last 17-plus years have worked on Wall Street. It’s been a tough year and a half as I was laid off upon my return from IML last year. I’ve been fortunate enough to find another job since then, however.

Life in NYC? That’s a big question that can be answered in so many different ways. I love it. It keeps me busy. I love the diversity and convenience of it all. I think it’s a great place to be. I’m always amazed by the constant discoveries you can have about the place, even after having lived here for most of my life.

Storm: What inspired you to compete for Mr. New York Eagle 2008? What do you feel you accomplished with the title? Is there a single achievement or moment of which you are most proud?

Peter: I guess my partner, Rick, inspired me to be honest. I went through the whole process with him and what he was able to do with it. It seemed like it would be a great experience and I would get a chance to give back a little.

Hmmmm, what did I accomplish? Well, I would like to think that there was a little more focus on the leather community in some of the mainstream local gay press. We did raise a lot of money that year as well. Team Eagle raised just shy of $90K for the HIV/AIDS services of the LGBT Center here in NYC. Other than that, I would like to think that I was at least visible and people knew that the community not only existed, but that it’s one that gives back to others. If I had to pick one moment, it would have to be the exposure that Team Eagle brought to the Braking the Cycle ride ( .

Storm: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about entering a leather competition? Are competitions good training grounds for leather leadership? Why are competitions still relevant?
Peter: I always have advice, I suppose ;) I would certainly say to know the title and what it entails and what is expected should you win. Also have an idea of what you’d like to do with it. Different titles have different focuses, so just make sure it’s something that suits you.
As to whether or not a title is good training grounds, that largely depends on the title and their producers. Some titles are just simple bar titles and there is nothing expected other than the person maybe getting free drinks for the year. Other producers control virtually every movement the title holder makes, while others send the title holders on their way to make of it what they can. So once again, ask around and know your title. If it suits you, it can be a great way to learn a lot about both yourself and the community you serve.

Are competitions relevant? I would say they are, provided that they in some way serve your community. It doesn’t have to be fundraising, but I have always felt that it should give back to the community in some sort of constructive way.

Storm: With the increasing popularity of the Internet, many leather and kink bars around the country have closed and some competitions have folded. What’s the New York leather scene like? Still vibrant? Retrenching?

Peter: Ah yes, the popular question of what the computer age has done to social life. I don’t know that you can place the blame on the closure of leather bars squarely upon the shoulders of the internet. Leather bars became leather bars because people went there in leather and not because the owner just proclaimed it. There are plenty of bars that are open these days that do just fine. If people wanted to wear leather out to the bars, they would. Some of them just need to be shown that it’s okay to do so.

As for the NYC leather scene, I would say that it’s a good scene. I hear many opposing opinions, but to me it always seems like people think that the grass is always greener somewhere else, or was greener at some other time. I would say that it’s retrenching a bit. No, it’s not the 70’s and early 80’s. No, The Eagle is not The Lure. Times have changed, as have the people, and we just need to adapt and move forward.

Storm: I saw an article on another website a short while back that appeared to put down newcomers to the leather scene who knew nothing of leather “tradition.” Is there any relevance to the whole “Old Guard – New Guard” debate? How do we welcome newcomers into our leather communities?

Peter: I’m so tired of this question. Yes there is an old guard and a new guard, and I think the two sides will never agree. I’m always one for progress. Times have changed and we have to accept that. You can go into the reasons, pros and cons, in a whole other debate. Still, however, if we want the community to survive we have to find a way to bring new people into the fold. I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule as to how to bring new folks in. I do think that it can be done in a way where you can (and should) pay respect to the old guard. People should understand their history. As to how to go about this, I find the best approach is often the personal one. Be willing to extend yourself, meet people, answer questions outside of some classroom setting, be sociable and bring folks out to a bar in a non-threatening way. They will discover what it’s all about. Rick and I did that many times. We would have folks contact us saying that leather interested them and they were curious about the leather scene but had no idea where to start. We’d meet up somewhere and take them out to a bar and introduce them around to our friends. It wasn’t a play date, but just a chance to come hang out and see what it’s like.

Storm: It seems that Gay Rights activism is on the rise again with issues like ENDA, DOMA and “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell,” along with the push for marriage equality so much in the news. Is there a role for the leather community to play in advancing these issues?

Peter: I think there is always a role for every community in things like this. Keeping in mind of course that the leather community is not always a gay community, but there certainly is a lot of overlap. In as much as the individuals are affected, the community is affected. It only takes one voice to stand up and be heard and if we don’t do it, who will do it for us? It always reminds me of a great quote by Martin Niemöller

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

And then... they came for me... And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

Storm: This is a “wrap-question.” Is there any topic at all you’d like to say something about? Something I’ve missed that you’d like to address?

Peter: I hear so many people bitch about what the community was like, or how much they don’t like this or that, yet they do nothing to change it. If you don’t like it, then do something about it. Gear up, come out, support the community and give back in whatever way you know how. Just complaining about it serves no purpose other than to aggravate those that are trying to make a change.

Storm: Thank you, Peter. I hope that this blog is one way in which I’m giving back. It was a delight meeting you in Kansas City last fall, and it’s very much an honor to kick off this interview series with you. I appreciate your time and wish the best for you and your partner, Rick, in the future.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

International Mr. Leather - Gary Iriza, Farewell

Photograph by Storm Christopher.

The annual International Mr. Leather competition is just two weeks away -- Memorial weekend. According to the latest issue of The Leather Journal, 52 men from around the United States and the world will be competing for the title this year. The event will once again be hosted by the Chicago Hyatt-Regency which, I believe, has proven to be a far better venue than the old Palmer House.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend IML this year. I have a new novel out this month (under a different name), and book-signing and promotional opportunities require me to be somewhere else. I'm excited about the new book and the book-signing, but I do regret having to miss IML.

I'll particularly miss the chance to see Gary Iriza step down as International Mr. Leather 2008. Gary did a spectacular job of representing the leather community over the past year. I was in the audience when he won the title at the 30th anniversary IML competition. It was a spectacular show with many handsome and powerful leathermen. Gary shone on the stage.

I had the chance to meet him on two other ocassions over the year. I found him warm and funny and very helpful when, last October, I briefly allowed myself to be "drafted" into the "Mr. Bootleggers" leather competition at the last minute. Gary was generous with his praise, advice and encouragement. Unfortunately, I had to drop out due to a family obligation, but not before going through the interview process with Gary and the other judges.

Gary, I hope you enjoy your last week as the bearer of the International Mr. Leather 2008 title, and I wish you the very very best in your future endeavors. I know you'll continue to serve the community with energy, style and charm. Thank you for being an outstanding spokesperson and leader.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Leather Archives/Museum Membership Luncheon

May 2009
For Immediate Release
Rick Storer
Leather Archives & Museum

Annual Membership Meeting
for the Leather Archives & Museum

Spring has finally arrived and spring in Chicago means one thing. International Mr. Leather is just around the corner! With IML comes the Leather Archives & Museum's General Meeting of Membership Luncheon. This event will take place on Sunday, May 24th. A bus will be departing the Conrad Hilton Hotel at 11:30am to bring guests to the LA&M where they can view the galleries, hear about upcoming events and enjoy a delicious meal! Learn about what's happening at some of the organizations that support us. Gallery exhibits are constantly changing.
View our new GAGallery exhibit: "Under Orders, an artistic submission by Kelly Courtney."
Come see the SINS Screening Room which will be opening that week.

A bus will be returning to the hotel at 1:30 and again at 2:30.
Join us May 24th and see what is new at the museum since you were last here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I just wanted to show off the cover to a new anthology in which I have possibly one of the best short stories I've ever written. The anthology is called DON JUAN AND MEN, and features stories that ask the question, "What if Don Juan were gay?" The anthology comes from MLR Books and will be released in June. My entry is called "Descenso" and brings a possibly immortal Don Juan into the extreme leather scene of modern day New York. Most of the action takes place at a bar call "Faust's." Under various names, I've written a sizeable stack of novels, edited two anthologies, and sold well over a hundred stories to magazines and books. However, this so-called "pornographic" story may be one of the works of which I'm most proud.

The editor of DON JUAN AND MEN is Caro Soles with whom I've worked previously on an anthology called MELTDOWN from Badboy Books. She's outstanding in her own right, both as an editor and as a writer. Check out her novel, A DRAG QUEEN IN THE COURT OF ROYALTY, also from MLR Books.