Atlanta Leather Pride dominates Eagle’s weekend

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imageAfter its debut last year, Atlanta Leather Pride returns Friday through Sunday to socialize, educate, party, and best of all, celebrate Atlanta Eagle’s 24th anniversary and crown Mr. Atlanta Eagle 2011.

“We’re very excited about the weekend, and one of the biggest reasons why is that it’s the second annual Atlanta Leather Pride, so we’re really excited to have that first year under our belts and be able to keep it going,” says Pup Nitro, an organizer of the event. “The other big reason is that a lot of the leather clubs from around the Southeast will be joining us this year to celebrate.”

Friday’s kick-off Black & Blue Ball at the Eagle features not just a litany of leathered-up lads and lasses, but also BDSM demos for both the experienced and the curious alike. A Saturday afternoon Leather Pride Cookout leads into the weekend’s centerpiece event, Saturday night’s Mr. Atlanta Eagle contest.

imageThis year’s contest judges are a breed apart—all title holders. Topping the list are two international reigning champs, Mr. International Bootblack Tim Starkey and Atlanta’s own Mr. SE Rubber G-man (top photo), who went on to bring home the Mr. International Rubber title. The panel also includes six former Mr. and Ms. Atlanta Eagles going back to Ms. Khiki, the first Ms. Atlanta Eagle in 1995. The special guest emcee is Dakota (second photo), the current Ms. American Leatherwoman.

And of course, daddies and boys are gearing up—literally—for the competition, and Nitro says that the key to winning isn’t all about the look.

“We are not looking for the best looking person or the best gear, but the best individual,” he says, “Someone who can represent the Atlanta Eagle in the spirit of the bar and just have fun with it. What you do with the title is up to the winner, but I think for it to have meaning and be done right, they really have to do some soul searching and pick a target—whether it be the region, the country–and shoot for that target.”

imageThat’s certainly true of two 2011 judges, Mr. Eagle 2009 Alan Penrod (third photo), who went on a nationwide outreach mission to increase Atlanta’s visibility in the leather world at large, and 2010 title holder Chandler Bearden, who made a “tremendous impact locally, not just in the leather community but in the broader gay community,” Nitro says.

For his part, Bearden (bottom photo) says his best advice for the new winner is to “be themselves,” he says. “I’d love to see the next Mr. Atlanta Eagle be as authentic as they can be and not just a stereotype of what they think that image should be. The more authentic they can be, the more they can accomplish.”

After taking last year’s fierce competition (view photos), Bearden learned a lot during his reign, including how accepting and open the leather crowd is.

“It opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes, the organization that goes into it, the educational aspect,” he says. “It gave me much more of a connection with the community and how much we all help each other. I had connection with individuals before, but now I have connections nationwide. I’ve definitely grown from it.”

imageBearden’s increased visibility regularly inspires e-mails and Facebook messages asking for information, resources and help in facing curiosity and fears about the scene.

“I get to help some of them come to terms that it’s OK, perfectly normal, and others I get to connect with services, groups, get them involved and dispel their fears,” he says. “Part of what I tried to accomplish was to be an approachable, un-intimidating representative.”

Robby Kelley, co-owner of the Eagle, agrees that outreach and approachability are crucial ingredients for representing the bar well as Mr. Atlanta Eagle.

“It’s less about a look or type and more about personality,” Kelley says. “We’re looking for somebody who puts back into the community. Some help in the community, whatever cause they choose, along the way is important to represent the Eagle. The title is just a title if you don’t reach out.”

Saturday’s contest is followed by a victory party that includes the bar’s anniversary celebration with a balloon drop of cash and t-shirt prizes. Sunday afternoon sees a wind-down Atlanta Leather Pride Brunch at Sauced. Everyone is welcome, all of the organizers assert.

“The leather community really branches to a broad spectrum, so it’s always been and continues to be so accepting and tolerant of just about everybody,” Kelly says. “That’s also how we feel about the Eagle and making it 24 years. When we bought the bar [14 years ago in April], we bought the bar that we loved.

“It’s an incredibly nice feeling to know we survived, stayed on our feet and keep paying our bills,” he continues. “There’s been times that are tough recently with the economy and troubles over the raid, but when you’ve got people like Alan and Nitro and Chandler and so many of our customers, they have made it a real joy.”

Dakota and G-Man photos courtesy Atlanta Leather Pride.

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