Best Gay Festival: International Mr. Leather
Best Gay Festival: International Mr. Leather Credit: BullmanX

The Reader’s Choice: International Mr. Leather

On Memorial Day Weekend, IML and its affiliated events—including the International Mr. Leather competition, the International Mr. Bootblack competition, a leather market, numerous fetish parties, and the Black & Blue Ball—take over the Hilton Chicago for what might be one of the most fascinating juxtapositions of cultures and lifestyles ever. (IML also coincides with Bear Pride weekend, and all its fetish-specific revelries, over at the Chicago-Metro Crowne Plaza.)

The contest, started as the Mr. Gold Coast contest at Chuck Renslow’s now-defunct Gold Coast leather bar in 1979, has grown steadily over the years, from an original 12 contestants to about 60, attracting swarms of leather aficionados from around the globe—it truly is an international event. And unlike at many Gay Pride celebrations, where participants are virtually tripping over one another to prove how wholesome and normal they are, IML celebrants revel in their queerness and their kinks.

As with Gay Pride or Northalsted Market Days, participation in IML is not limited to gays (and although the contest itself is dudes-only, women and trans folks are welcome at most parties and events), but I’ve always felt a stronger sense of shared purpose, community identity, and pride at IML events. Maybe it’s because the frat boys are scared away. Or maybe it’s because the leather community remembers something that the greater gay community sometimes forgets: leather or denim, dominant or submissive, hairy or shaved, we’re all in this together.  Thu-Mon 5/21-5/25, 800-545-6753,, weekend packages from $165. —Kathie Bergquist

&Our readers’ choice: Northalsted Market Days

 Sat-Sun 8/1-8-2, 11 AM-10 PM, Halsted between Belmont and Addison, 773-584-6268,, $5 suggested donation.