By Megan Wadding, January 2017 Web Exclusive.

As part of an event-filled weekend, hopeful contestants will compete for the title of Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017 beginning at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Embassy Suites Phoenix Airport Hotel.

The annual contest grew out of the Cellblock and Padlock bar contests, according to Kenneth Anthony, who co-founded the contest in 2009 and has co-produced it since.

“After the Cellblock closed in May of 2008, [we] did not want to see the contest disappear," Anthony said. "[By] working with the bars that were supportive of our community, [we] created a city-wide leather contest.”

According to Anthony, a handful of men from Arizona (typically between 1 and 4) compete for the title each year.

“To qualify for Mr. Phoenix Leather, a person must be 21 years old, male-identified, and a resident of Phoenix or the surrounding area,” Anthony said. “A working knowledge of the Leather community, it’s history, and contemporary issues is helpful to do well in the contest.”

Danny O'Leary, Mr. Phoenix Leather 2016 (second from left). Photo by Gregg Edelman.

Additionally, the judging panel for the Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017 contest includes Danny O'Leary, Bill Brooks, Bob Weber, Ms. Bonnie, Jeffrey Erdman, Pug Pug and Rocko Cook.

The Mr. Phoenix Leather (MPL) contest is the only preliminary contest in Arizona in which the winner qualifies for The International Mr. Leather (IML) Contest that takes place in Chicago each May.

“[The winner of] MPL goes on to compete at the International Mr. Leather contest with contestants from all over the world,” Anthony said. “The IML organization does not have a set of requirements for their contestants, and so it is up to the sponsoring agency and the organization of their local leather community, whether the contestant will go directly to IML or advance to an additional preliminary.”

The MPL contest follows the same format of the IML contest, Anthony said.

At both, the contestants are judged on interview, body image, on-stage question, speech and formal wear. MPL adds two additional scoring categories: on-stage presence at the meet & greet and overall weekend attitude.

“Our requirements are intentionally vague to give the contestant leeway to express their individuality. Many of the social events have the dress-code described as ‘casual bar wear,’ which can be anything from chaps and a harness to leather pants and a vest,” Anthony said. “Some contestants get more creative with their gear for the bar wear portions. In the body image portion, we ask for, ‘revealing or flattering attire that displays your best assets, while remaining street legal.’ During the formal portion, we call for, ‘leather formal wear or uniform.’”

Each contestant is judged solely on their own performance on and off stage during the contest weekend in five categories, according to Anthony.

“The contestant that scores the most points during the weekend is named Mr. Phoenix Leather; the next highest point scorer is named First Runner Up. The First Runner Up assumes the responsibilities of Mr. Phoenix Leather, should he become unable to fulfill his duties,” Anthony said.

There are certain expectations of the winner of MPL, including being expected to compete at IML in Chicago, hold fund-raisers throughout the year to benefit the Mr. Phoenix Leather Travel fund and Arizona-based Charities of his choice and [to] judge the contest the following year, according to Anthony.

A first-time MPL contestant this year, Jerry Heitman, has been a member of the Phoenix boys of Leather and Arizona Men of Leather since 2008.

“I could not be more excited. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends from out of state and meeting new people involved with the leather lifestyle,” Heitman said. “Holding the title of MPL [would] allow me to be more visible and provide a platform to better represent the MPL family and LGBTQ community.”

Eric Crissinger, a member of the Arizona Men of Leather for roughly the past two years, is also competing for the first time this year.

“I am still young and relativity new to this community and I can't wait to see what the future holds and to see what I can bring to it. I am always looking for new experiences and ways to grow, and I think Mr. Phoenix Leather will be a great way to do just that,” Crissinger said. “I can't describe how excited I am. This will be an amazing experience whether I win or lose.”


Mr. Phoenix Leather 2016. Photo by Gregg Edelman.

In addition to the contest itself, there will be many opportunities for socializing and networking within the leather community, including a cigar social, a meet & greet, a parking lot party and more (see below for full weekend itinerary).

“To many in the leather community, leather is more than what we wear and how we have sex, although those often play a large part in our lives,” Anthony said. “Leather is an ideology of brotherhood/sisterhood and community that governs how we interact with each other within the bonds of trust, honor and respect.”

In addition, Anthony said he believes that the reach and influence of the contest and related events benefit the entire community.

“MPL has, and continues to, provide opportunities for fellowship and brotherhood within the local leather community and beyond,” Anthony said. “Winning this contest and competing at the international level is a once in a lifetime experience that every past title holder of this contest cherishes, and will cherish for the rest of their lives. The opportunities for growth and brotherhood are extraordinary.”

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