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Washington, D.C.

Youth, Endurance, and Hard Candies

Leatherfolk at D.C.'s Capital Pride Parade 2005

By Dusk Peterson

The man in a suit walked down the street in Washington, D.C., his face hard with disapproval. He was holding the hand of a very young boy wearing a grey-green suit, who was staring with open mouth at the people in the street.

First came the military-type unit of the Men of Discipline, practicing their drills. In front of them was a group of leathermen wearing varying club colors, holding the sides of an enormous rainbow flag. Then came a float labelled "Brother Help Thyself" (BHT), the name of a charity organization formed in 1978 by local leather/levi clubs. On the float was half a rainbow arch, and under it was a motley crew in cowboy hats, construction hats, harness, and – in the case of the drag queen, Miss BHT 2005 – a bright red dress.

A more conventionally dressed contingent of DC Bears walked behind the Centaur MC float, in front of which the Spartan MC motorcyclists were revving their engines. Mr. and Ms. Baltimore Eagle cheerily awaited the start of the parade in their convertible. Heading this all was the climax: the DC Eagle float, filled with scantily dressed men and women practicing their gyration techniques.

A leatherman in the BHT float, wearing the colors of the Defenders Leather/Levi Club, shrugged as he watched the young boy walk by. "Kids are smart," he said. "He'll cope. Look, he's curious about what he's watching."

The young boy would hardly be the only one who stared open-mouthed at the leather/levi contingent in the Capital Pride Parade on June 12. All along the route, observers would gape as the leatherfolk and bears made their way past. Many people would applaud. One man, sighting the BHT float, would shout over and over, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

At the start of the parade route, though, the construction-hatted man directing the BHT float with a bullhorn had a more pressing issue in mind.

"Try to keep the two sides of the platform in balance," he called up to the group standing on the portion of the float that had been built over the back of a pick-up truck. "And hold onto the rail. We may lurch suddenly when we start."

One of the leathermen, faced with a last-minute emergency, borrowed a water bottle and went in search of a place where enough privacy could be found that he could ease his bladder. None of the yellow-hankied men offered to help. He returned, and the parade started forward. The truck didn't lurch.

As the float began to make its way down the street toward Dupont Circle, several onlookers threw hard candies onto the float. The member of the Defenders called back to one of the other leathermen, "Hand me that candy! I need some sugar!"

"Sugar?" came the reply. "Hey, I've got sugar! You want it wrapped in something besides paper?"

Another man took a swig of water. The man who had taken the bladder break earlier said, "Watch which bottle you drink from." The first man nearly spluttered the water all over the float.

Miss BHT was busy tossing necklaces with brightly colored beads to people lining the streets. A lesbian encouraged her young daughter to catch a necklace. A man in leather shorts and harness, with hankies in his left back pocket, ran along the side of the crowd, collecting money for BHT, while the man with the bullhorn encouraged watchers to toss money into the flag. "Give to Brother Help Thyself, the GLBT community chest of Washington!" he cried. From BHT's perspective, this was a prime opportunity for charity fund-raising.

The Defenders club member had other types of solicitations in mind.

"You're cute!" he shouted down to a man in the crowd. "Yes, you! Need a daddy?"

The man, blushing, refused to meet the prospective daddy's eye.

Inevitably, as the parade route lengthened, the talk on the BHT float turned to important matters.

"My feet are killing me," complained Mr. Capital Pride Leather 2005.

"Your feet are killing you?" shot back Miss BHT. "Honey, I'm in high heels."

"I'm over fifty years old," contributed the Defenders club member.

"I'm only forty-two, but I have my period."

There was a pause following the statement by the last speaker.

"Honey," said Miss BHT, "you've just outdone the rest of us."

The float reached the mass of onlookers crowded in front of JR's, a bar that, as the member of the Defenders put it, "is everything that the DC Eagle isn't." The onlookers cheered the leathermen like crazy.

From there, it wasn't far to the end of the parade route - which, for most of the leather/levi contingent, was the parking lot of the Tool Shed, a part-time leather bar above the more conventional Green Lantern bar. As the truck turned to park in front of the bars, there was a sudden outcry above. The front half of the float, having done its duty, had chosen this moment to start caving in.

An evacuation ensued. Some of the leatherfolk wandered off to watch the rest of the parade, or to go home. Others took refuge in the place where cool drinks were to be found.

Downstairs in the Green Lantern, red strobe lights danced amidst high-pitched singing. Upstairs in the Tool Shed, the bar was darker; the tones of the singers were deeper.

Mr. Capital Pride Leather 2005 was ready to drop from exhaustion.

"The last two days have been a whirl," Tsar Agus said.

It might better be said that the last six years had been a whirl. Kicked from his home by his parents after they learned he was gay, Mr. Agus eventually found a master he wished to stay with. After his master died, he moved to Washington where, a bare year after becoming part of the D.C. leather community, he entered himself into the Mr. Capital Pride Leather contest.

When the results were announced, he misheard them and thought he was the first runner-up. He couldn't figure out why he was the person being approached with the sash.

Having received his title at age twenty-one, he is reputed to be the youngest titleholder in the nation. He plans to use his title to encourage younger leathermen to join the community. "So many of the leathermen in the clubs are older," he said. "If we don't bring new people in, what will happen in a few years?" Since he has noticed that many of the younger leathermen identify as pups, he hopes to work with the local boys to form a pup group.

In the meantime, his feet were still killing him.

"I'll be glad when this week is over," he shouted above the bar music.

A week later, though, he was up on the reconstructed BHT parade float, standing beside Miss BHT as he greeted the Baltimore Pride Parade crowds with a smile. Youth, it seemed, had found a way to cope.

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Brother Help Thyself float, Capital Pride Parade 2005: Back of the float. Front of the float 1. Front of the float 2. BHT's rainbow flag. Photos by Henry Linser and Randy Shulman. [Metro Weekly]

Mr. Capital Pride Leather 2005. Photo by Vern Stewart. [Mister Marcus]

Brother Help Thyself.

Copyright © 2005 Dusk Peterson. All rights reserved.
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