By Laura Latzko, January 2018 Issue

For the past 10 years, the Mr. Phoenix Leather contest (MPL) – and the event-filled weekend that accompanies it – has serves at a space for the leather community to gather, connect, serve and celebrate.

Competition founders Stephen Bloom and Kenneth Anthony brought their experiences as Mr. Padlock Leather 2001 and Mr. Cellblock Leather 2008, respectively, together to form the Mr. Phoenix Leather contest.

After attending the International Mr. Leather contest (IML), Anthony said he and Bloom were inspired to create a similar space for camaraderie and brotherhood to the Phoenix area.

“We came [away from] that experience with feelings of being connected to something larger than ourselves,” he said. “When we created the Mr. Phoenix Leather contest, we always wanted to remember that feeling and provide some of that to the people who compete and participate in our weekend.”

Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017. Photo by

According to Anthony, the longevity the Phoenix contest – the only Arizona preliminary contest for International Mr. Leather in Chicago each May – speaks to its significance in the leather and greater LGBTQ communities.

“It’s been a really rewarding experience, and it’s been a lot of fun actually, watching the contest continue to grow, watching the excitement that people feel when they come into the contest,” Anthony said. “I’m proud of the fact that I have been a part of making that happen.”

As part of the event-filled weekend, the 2018 Mr. Phoenix Leather contest will take place Jan. 6 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Phoenix Airport.

During the competition, contestants compete in the categories of onstage appearance, skinwear, private interview, formal leather and speech and overall weekend presentation.

The judging panel will feature local and out-of-state titleholders such as Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017 Jerry Heitman, International Mr. Bootblack 2017 Ryan Garner-Carpenter, International Mr. Leather 1989 Guy Baldwin, Southwest Leather boy 2017 Michael May and American Leatherman 2016 Doug Kuhn.

Former titleholders Jefferson “Tugger” Ely and Steven Loki will serve as the emcees.

The winner becomes a representative for the Mr. Phoenix Leather competition, as well as the Phoenix leather community, and goes on to compete at the International Mr. Leather competition May 24-27 in Chicago.

The deadline for Mr. Phoenix Leather 2018 contestant applications is Dec. 27.

Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017 Jerry Heitman. Photo by Scotty Kirby.

And, according to Heitman, who will step down as part of the 2018 contest, anyone seeking this title should have a few specific qualities.

“You need to be open, and you definitely need to be decisive, passionate,” Heitman said. “You’re going to meet all types of people … You need to be flexible, you need to be available.”

Additionally, many titleholders give back to the community through educational endeavors or fundraising efforts for local organizations.

“I do think that the title and our encouragement of involvement, not just in the leather community … has really contributed to the community at-large’s understanding what the leather community is and getting some of that cross-understanding,” Anthony said.

Each year, Anthony said, the winner brings something distinctly his own to the title and to the broader community.

“We subscribe highly to the philosophy that a titleholder shapes his own year,” Anthony said. “As producers, we’ve always stepped back and said, ‘All right, what is it that you want your legacy to be?’”

It’s because of this philosophy that Heitman advises contestants to be true to themselves and be committed to the title.

“It is what you make out of it,” Heitman said, adding that his experience has inspired him to remain active once his reign has concluded. For more information on the 2018 Mr. Phoenix Leather contest, visit or email

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