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Pantheon of Leather 2019 saw 30 new recipients added to the total of over 900 over the years at the Crowne Plaza Market Center in Dallas, TX. Pantheon of Leather was held as part of International Leather Sir, Leatherboy and International Community Bootblack on Thursday night, August 29 as part of a formal buffet dinner which had about 30 standing past the sellout crowd. ILSLb ICBB was held Labor Day weekend.

 

 

 

 

By Patrick Smith

I wanted to speak this evening on my travels. And the work that we can do as a community to help those less fortunate. Now as many of you know, I've been doing some outreach work lately. Namely - in Uganda. And I have lots of stories to tell but before we get there, I wanted to touch on what difference my title made in all of this.

Did I need my title to do this, and did it really make a difference at all?

A lot of people think, because I’m IML, that I enjoy certain privileges. And it's true - I do. In addition to getting invited to incredible weekends like this one with all of you, IML has given me two distinct advantages to make a difference for my community.

IML has given me:

(1) An audience; and (2) Access.

Now, I am going to theorize for you today that someone does not need a title like this to make a difference in their community. So while I am tremendously proud to be International Mr. Leather, I am going to dispel any notion that being IML, or having a title, is necessary for any of this.

So what has IML given me?

(1) I have an audience. A big, wonderful audience including all of you. That is something I didn't have before. I have a social media following of more than 10,000 people. And the reach of my social media posts the week I went to Uganda topped 40,000 people.

BUT. And this is a big but. I have less followers than most of the people who post exclusively shirtless gym selfless to their Facebook pages. And their posts probably have a reach of 100,000 in a week.

So yes, I may have a following. But if I can have a following from IML, and if those people posting their shirtless gym selfies can have a following, anyone can have a following. This is the age of social media. We're all living it. And I would wager to guess a good number of people in this room have more Twitter followers than me. You do not need a title to have an audience.

The second thing that IML gave me: Access.

Yes, I have access to people that some in the audience may not have. People may want to meet with me, or sleep with me (which is much appreciated!), because of my title.

But guess what? The people I visited in Africa? They don't care about IML! They don't care that I strutted around a stage for three nights in a row in a jock strap. They have bigger things to worry about. And in fact, I didn't even mention that I was International Mr. Leather until after I got there. Until I was face to face with them.

Plain old Patrick Smith was able to get a meeting with a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and he didn't even have to mention his title.

So I absolutely want to instill this in you: any one of you can do this. title-holder, non-title holder, it doesn't matter. It is all about what you have on the inside.

And what I have on the inside, and what my goals are? I am trying to reach out to people like yourselves to help me, and for us to band together to help the LGBT people in this world who so desperately need it.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk to you about today. And that is the state of sexual minorities in in Africa. This is an issue I have been passionate about for a long time, and which I talked about it in my IML speech, which I gave onstage the final night of the contest.

Writing my IML speech was easy. This is an international title, and if I won, I wanted to be an international voice. And a voice not just to the leather community - but to the broader community of sexual minorities, both here at home and worldwide.

In my speech, I celebrated the progress we had made. I talked about how growing up in Canada, legal same sex marriage is the only reality I can remember. And how my mother, and my husband, who I am legally married to, were in the audience supporting me. It's a reality that quite honestly, a lot of the earlier IMLs thought they would
never see.

And it is so fascinating and so exciting how quickly all of this happened. But there is a common thread in all of this. All of this is progress we have made here at home.

And instead of going forward, we are going backward in other parts of the world.

You know, the fact that the United States got marriage equality this year - it’s fantastic! It’s amazing! - but it is cold comfort to the teenager in Russia who's scared to even come out of the closet for fear of being thrown in jail. So I wanted to talk about it, and I did. And the judges and the audience liked it enough to give me this sash. But I also wanted to do something about it. I didn't want it to just be words. Or lip service from the safety of the IML
stage in liberal Chicago.

There is a reason there is an "I" in IML, and I wanted to do service to that. So I made the decision to go to Africa. And I spent a lot of time researching which country would be best. Which have the most organized gay rights groups? Which would be best for my personal safety? Which, if something did go wrong, had the least punitive laws for homosexuality?

So I thought about it a lot… and then I just threw the research out the window and said "screw it I'm going to Uganda, I don't care if it's the scariest one."

And I didn't tell anyone at first. Well, I told a few people. And the people I did tell… They all begged me not to go. My poor mother. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent on the phone with her, reassuring her that I would be okay. So while not going was not an option for me, I did promise I would be careful. And that I would be discreet. I'm not stupid, and I knew the Ugandan government wouldn't exactly roll out the red carpet if they knew that I was coming. So I quietly went about my preparations, and off I went.

So I showed up in Uganda, and I have to admit, when I set foot on that soil, I was scared. I was really scared. All of us from the plane, we were all lined up, going through customs, and I need to be honest, with every passing moment that went on I was getting more and more frightened. I had only brought one bag with me, my backpack.
And I was terrified of it having it searched. Even a run of the mill, random search. It would be a disaster. My backpack contained my IML sash, a folder full of research on the Ugandan LGBT community, and a computer with a not-so-modest collection of hardcore gay porn.

Recipe for disaster if I was searched. So I was scared. But I got in. And I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. And finally, I was able to truly relax and begin to enjoy the incredible experience I was about to have.

Here is one thing I will say about the Ugandan LGBT community that you probably already know. They are very underground. Extremely underground. So much so that it was difficult to event get in contact, let alone book appointments with activists there. I had reached out to several of them in the weeks leading up to my trip. But it was a long process, and up until a couple of days before I left, I didn't know whether I would get any meetings with them at all. The trip could have been a total bust.

But you know it makes sense. They are so underground. And rightfully so they are so fearful of entrapment. Someone posing as someone they're not to assault them, or kill them. Fake messages on Facebook, by email. It happens. So it took numerous emails, numerous Facebook messages and numerous phone calls before I got the meetings. But once I did get them, they were incredible.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with Dr. Frank Mugisha. Dr. Mugisha is the Nobel peace prize nominee I mentioned earlier.

And ironically enough, he was nominated alongside Vladmir Putin. I asked him about that and the irony was not lost on him.

So Dr. Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG. And it's an organization he started to try to turn things around in the country. So he gives me the address to their offices. First of all, it's not easy to find your way around Uganda. None of the streets are marked. Very few properties are numbered. And this place is totally off the beaten path in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. It's all dirt roads around there, it's a cloudy day, starting to rain, not the most optimistic sign. But finally I find it.

I walk up to a big, black, reinforced, solid iron gate. No markings of what the property actually is, for obvious reasons. I knock on the big iron door, and a tiny little window slides open - just like in the movies - and they ask who I am. They let me in, and I look around and I see a really beautiful compound. (Of course you can tell they're gay by how well kept it is. And of course they're all super well-dressed). Finally, I'm among my people.

But as beautiful as it is, with their gardens and their nice offices, it is also like Fort Knox. All of their vehicles - glass tinted pitch black so nobody can see who's driving. Digital locks on all the doors so they can go on lockdown in case they get raided.

And it was beautiful and I felt secure there, but you know, it made me sad. It really makes me sad that people who just want to coexist with everyone else peacefully have to take these kind of security precautions. It's just one of those things we take for granted here.

Dr. Mugisha sat down with me for over an hour. He told me all about the work he's doing. Told me about what day to day life is like for a gay person in Uganda, the progress they have made since the "Kill the Gays" bill was introduced. But he also told me something, that again, made me sad. He doesn't believe he will ever see equality for the Ugandan LGBT community in his lifetime. And he's a young guy.

I learned all about the need for activists like him to achieve a balance. A balance between being visible, for their cause and their community, and being careful, for their safety.

He told me about a boy who contacted him, fairly out of the blue, saying that he wanted to commit suicide. That he was going to do it that night, in fact.

And Dr. Mugisha thought about it. He thought that it might be a trap. You never know - these things happen there. But he put his life on the line, and he went to the boy.

It wasn't a trap, and he counseled him for days, and for weeks, and the boy is still alive today. He put his life on the line to save someone else's. That is the kind of bravery you see among the gay rights leaders in Uganda and that I have so much respect for.

I also had the very great pleasure of visiting a primary school in rural Uganda. Now this school is really something special. It is run by the head of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Uganda. And this man is a proud gay rights activist. In rural Uganda.

Now, the people in this tiny little African village in the middle of nowhere, know that the principal of this school is an open advocate for gay rights. And he is teaching their children. And that's alright with them. It is truly a remarkable lesson in the value of community. And the universal power of compassion and understanding.

I would like to tell you a story about this school. It's what you might expect in Africa - dirt floor, no electricity. I was even told it was the first time in their lives most of the students had seen a white person face-to-face. And I was invited to do a Q&A with the Grade 8 class. So they're asking me all sorts of questions about all sorts of things back in the US - what does a dollar bill look like, what’s it like to work in the movie industry - so I'm up there for about an hour, and someone notices my wedding band.

The student stands up and says, "I see you're wearing a ring on your left hand. Are you married?"

Uh oh. Let's be clear, I did not come to the school to preach gay rights to the students. And the last thing I wanted was all the kids running home to their parents, in rural Africa, saying they learned about gay marriage in class. This village may be open minded, but there are still limits in rural Africa.

So I reply, "I am married," And the student asks a follow-up. "What's your wife's name?" he says.

And I smiled, and I looked down at the dirt floor of this little classroom in Africa, and thought about it for a moment, and I looked up and said, "let's not go there."

And they all burst out laughing. But you know what? These students aren't stupid, and I think they knew. Or I think a lot of them knew. And they were ok with it.

And this just proves the point. What is the key to all of this? What is the key to Uganda embracing their LGBT brothers and sisters? Really? It's no different that it is here. Every single activist I talked to confirmed it: awareness. The more people that are educated about it - these are rational people just like you and I - they come around. And the more people that come out, as dangerous as it is there - they send the message that they are the teachers, the doctors, the brothers and the sisters of Africans everywhere.

It is just like what Harvey Milk said, and if they come out and they show that they are just like everyone else, that discrimination melts away.

The key, is creating the climate in that country, in which people feel empowered to come out.

So I ask you to think about this. This is the situation for sexual minorities in Uganda and, so just imagine how widespread this is other places in Africa and elsewhere.

Click here to read the Palm Springs Leather Pride story.

Russia - gay people getting thrown in jail. The Middle East - gay people being beheaded or thrown from buildings. There is so much homophobia in this world and it is so rampant. And unfortunately, in many places things are getting worse, they're not getting better.

Now, I don't want to be all doom and gloom, because what I really want, is for my travels to foster constructive objectives, that we can achieve together, as a community.

And believe it or not there are things we can do right here in the United States that will help them. That will produce results. So I'm going to give you a few examples.

Now the first may seem obvious, but it is the truth. And that is, money talks. All of these organizations I've met with are able to accept foreign donations. It's how they survive. It is their lifeblood and it's the best way they can create the climate to empower more and more people to come out, which is ultimately how our community succeeds.

The second thing we can do: political pressure. We did it for marriage equality, we can do it for this. And it works.

When I was in Uganda I asked several activists if they thought the Kill the Gays bill would ever come back. And they all said no. Never. They were unanimous. The outcry from the international was so great, so severe, so crippling to Uganda's reputation, that the government will never resurrect it. It is gone for good. And that is thanks to governments like ours. So it does make a difference. We need to make sure our candidates, our representatives, our senators, are outspoken on international human rights. It helps. It helps a lot.

And finally, what can we do to help? We need to be just as active internationally, as the US-based anti-gay hate groups are. Do you ever wonder why you don't hear from the National Organization for Marriage anymore? Remember that group, that was passing all those gay marriage bans? We have gay marriage nationally now so why would we hear from them, right? Wrong.

The reason we don't hear from them is because they've taken their show on the road, and they are now out there in the international community trying to get legislation passed in foreign countries that would sentence sexual minorities to life in prison.

So I would say this. We fought these groups here at home, and we won. And now we need to fight them overseas.

How do we do that? We cut off their fundraising, dispute their tax exempt status, and fight to get them listed as registered hate groups so that Americans here at home can see them for who they really are.

So you see - there are things we can do. And the things we see and hear about over there make the situation seem so bleak. It's almost easy to just throw up our arms and say, "well, that's how it is over there."

But there is always a light, and there is always change that can be made.

Do you think the rioters at Stonewall thought they would see marriage equality in their lifetime? Never!

But guess what, a lot of them lived to see it.

Victory is not that far away, even in Africa, if we all work together for it. And I would like us to work together for it.

So in closing I would like to leave you with something, and it's a question I was recently asked. And I thought long and hard before answering it, because it is a valid one. And the question was, "what would you say to the Americans who wonder why they should care about what happens in foreign countries, when we are still fighting our own struggle for equality?"

And my answer was… I would say to that person, "next time you're sipping champagne at your best friend's samesex wedding, think about what it would be like to have to be afraid of spending the next 18 years in prison, for having sex with the person you love."

(Which is something that happens all the time - it happened when I was there.)

Now I don't say this to diminish of the battles we're still fighting here at home. Employment non-discrimination, denial of service laws, transgender discrimination. It is all critically important. But while we are in the final stages of our fight here at home, for them, overseas, the battle has just begun. And they are fighting for their lives. So please, let's make sure we give them our help. Thank you.