Leather Icons

This Pride Month, we're featuring Leather Icons throughout our history and community. It's thanks to these trailblazers, and many more, that the leather kink scene continues to thrive today. While there is no single way to participate, at its core, leather is about exploring power, pleasure, identity, and community.

  • A Pioneer of the Leather Community

    Chuck Renslow was a pioneering member of the leather community and a champion of LGBTQ rights. Known for his homoerotic photography in the mid-20th-century, he co-founded the International Mr. Leather competition, established a number of leather bars, and founded the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. Renslow passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.

  • A Trailblazing Leatherwoman

    Jill Carter, International Ms Leather 1996, has been active in the leather lifestyle for over 30 years. She wrote the book, “So You Wanna Be a Title Holder” about leather contest culture, and is the recipient of many awards including the Pantheon of Leather Woman of the Year Award 1998 and 2001. In 2005, she and Viola Johnson started The Carter/Johnson Library & Collection, a “collection of thousands of books, magazines, posters, art, club and event pins, newspapers, event programs and ephemera showing leather, fetish, S/M erotic history”

  • A Visionary of Leather Culture

    Dr. Tony DeBlase was a key figure in leather culture and the creator of the Leather Pride Flag, which has become an iconic symbol of the leather community. He developed the contest and demonstration schedule at the Chicago Hellfire Club's Inferno, and was the Founding publisher of DungeonMaster magazine, the most extensive published source of SM technique. The publications continued with Drummer magazine during its peak years from 1986-1992. Along with Chuck Renslow, he was a co-founder of the Leather Archives & Museum where he served as an officer and developed the Leather History timelines. He wrote leather fiction under the name Fledermous, and was a frequent lecturer and workshop leader.

    On May 28, 1989, he first presented the leather pride flag (which he had designed), at International Mr. Leather. The design was immediately embraced and began appearing in parades within a month of its introduction. Dr. DeBlase was also a mammologist who specialized in bat biology and co-wrote A Manual of Mammalogy: With Keys to Families of the World (1974). He passed away in July of 2000 at the age of 58.

  • A Groundbreaking Publication

    Drummer Magazine was a groundbreaking publication that celebrated leather culture and provided a platform for LGBTQ voices. It was launched in 1975 and continued publication until April of 1999 with issue 214. In 2019, Jack MacCullum purchased the magazine and its associated events from Martijn Bakker and relaunched it under editor Mike Miksche as a quarterly print and online publication.

    Among the writers and artists featured in the magazine have been Phil Andros, Tim Barrus, Scott Masters, Tom of Finland, Robert Opel, Fred Halsted, David Hurles, Rex, British artist Bill Ward, photographer Rick Castro, Larry Townsend, inkedKenny, Alexander Cheves and Race Bannon. 

  • A Pioneering Leather Author

    Laura Antoniou is a pioneering American novelist of leather-themed fiction and non-fiction. Her works include "The Marketplace" series of BDSM-themed novels and the three-volume "Leather Women" series. Antoniou's fiction and essays on alternate views of sexual roles have been cited by writers on the evolution of erotic fiction, and the social politics of gender roles.

    She’s the winner of the National Leather Association’s John Preston Short Fiction Award, Pauline Reage Novel Award, and Samois Anthology Award, and continues to write and teach about leather culture.

  • A Visionary of Erotic Art

    Robert Mapplethorpe was a visionary photographer whose work featured celebrity portraits, self-portraits, and the BDSM subculture of New York City in the late 1960s. Later, in the late 70s, Jack Fritscher, writer and Drummer editor, introduced him to the Mineshaft (a members-only gay BDSM bar in Manhattan). At one point, Robert became the club’s official photographer. After his passing, the 1989 exhibition titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment sparked a debate in the United States about the limits of free speech. 

  • A Teacher of Leather Culture

    Lee Harrington is a writer, teacher, and speaker who has helped spread knowledge and appreciation of leather culture. He has authored a number of books on BDSM, kink, and spirituality, and his bookShibari You Can Use: Japanese Rope Bondage and Erotic Macramereceived the National Leather Association International’s Geoff Mains Book Award for 2008.