On a downtown D.C. street more famous for lobbyists than leather, upwards of 1,000 people gathered Sunday afternoon for the contest to name Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2004, as well as Mid-Atlantic Leather Bootblack 2004. The contest was of special significance not only for its new venue -- the Almas Temple at K and 14th Streets NW -- but for marking the twentieth consecutive year of naming Mr. MAL, thanks to the Washington area's Centaur Motorcycle Club.
The three-plus-hour show ended with Tug Taylor of New Haven, Conn., taking the title of Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2004. The panel of judges named J. Cooper first runner-up and Dennis McMahon second runner-up. Michael Smith was presented with the Brotherhood Award. Outgoing MAL Bootblack Cristo Webb handed over the title and bronzed-boot trophy to the tearful 2004 winner, Spanky. Alan Tunstall was first runner-up, Arthur Funni was second.
Taking advantage of the temple's Arabesque architecture, event organizers chose an Egyptian theme, with the six Mr. MAL competitors taking the stage as loincloth-wearing, ancient Egyptian slaves of Mr. MAL 2003, Alvin York. A surprising rip in the seam of York's tan leather pants added another "member" to the troupe, sighted by the full house a few moments before York himself noticed. The audience cheered as York tucked himself back in, making the choreographed bit of fantasy-themed theater a big hit.
Moving to Almas Temple from Nation in Southeast D.C. enhanced the annual contest, MAL co-chair Mike Dembski concluded. "It made for a much more party feel," he said.
The event was thick with levity. Brett Parsons of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, joked that their uniforms blend in with the many uniform fetishists at Leather Weekend. He playfully showed off his team's new uniform: a T-shirt that reads "REAL POLICE."
John Pendal, International Mr. Leather 2003, injected a serious note near the beginning of the day. Pendal, a Mr. MAL 2004 judge and a native of London, drummed up support to help fight a British law used to imprison members of the BDSM community and based on the 1990 Spanner Trial, in which the British judiciary ruled that consent is not a legal defense for an "assailant."
Pendal's plea and the comedy aside, the main theme at Sunday's contest was community. Heartfelt speeches that left leather-clad daddies teary-eyed were the norm. Performances by club divas Crystal Waters and Ultra Nate brought everyone to their feet. An on-stage reunion of twelve of the past twenty Mr. MAL's -- including emcee Frank Nowicki, Mr. MAL 1993 -- presented a living testament to the culture and tradition of the leather community.
York's outgoing words seemed to touch all present as he shared that his father, who suffers from both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, phoned that morning. "On a day like this, my father remembered me and told me he loved me."