City of (Leather) Champions

Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish, Joe Birdwell, won the title of Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) 2014 at the Centaur Motorcycle Club’s MidAtlantic Leather competition. He was crowned over a three-day event in January.

Joe became the fourth consecutive Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish to win Mr. MAL. The last three Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather Title-Holders, Bryce Caine (2013), Matthew Bronson (2012) and Doug Pamplin (2011) were all from our fair city. He bested three other contestants in the Mr. MAL 2014 contest: Jeffrey Williams of the Knight Hawks of Virginia; Omar L. Boots, Mr. Connecticut Leather 2014; and Thomas Ideux, the 1st Runner-Up to Mr. Maryland Leather 2014 for the top spot.

Centaur Motorcycle Club, hosts of the MidAtlantic Leather Weekend, held the event at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill in D.C. The organization has been throwing the soiree in the Capitol for 29 years, and it is the first party of the New Year for the Leather Community.

Formed in 1970, Centaur Motorcycle Club consists of a group of men with an enthusiastic interest in motorcycles, leather and other men. The Club takes both a serious and irreverent approach to designing events for the amusement and enjoyment of the greater Leather Community. Centaur Motorcycle Club participates in a wide variety of philanthropic and social fundraising events.

Patrick Grady, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, and long-standing member of the Centaurs said, “Every MAL Weekend I get to see people I see once or twice a year. It’s a big reunion.”

Patrick cites the camaraderie within the organization that allows him to volunteer his time organizing the event. “I really enjoy the brotherhood. It’s a very generous and protective group.”

While the contest is only open to men who identify as gay males, Patrick confirms that the event is very inclusive. “We had men and women in leather, we had Furries. This year, we even had people dressed up like clowns.”

The MAL Chairman visited Pittsburgh when Birdwell won the local championship, the Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish Contest. Patrick said, “Four years in a row, the winner of the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend has been from Pittsburgh.” He added, “Three Rivers Leather Club is a great organization.”

The Three Rivers Leather Club is a much younger brother to the Centaurs. TRLC was incorporated into the Leather Community in 1991. Ahren Hollis, the Road Captain for Three Rivers Leather Club, described the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend as an amazing party. Ahren said, “You walk into the [Hyatt Regency] hotel and you are greeted by a sea of leather men and women.”

Members of the Three Rivers Leather Club were delighted by the choice of their new champion. The Road Captain, who is responsible for the club’s travel, beamed with pride at their choice. Ahren said, “Joe has a brilliant smile and southern charm that makes him an exceptional choice for our current Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leatherman.”

He added, “Fourteen members of the TRLC went down to the competition, and about forty people from Pittsburgh were at the MidAtlantic Leather Weekend.”

Joe isn’t used to the spotlight. He spent many of his early years in the shadows. He admits, ‘’I was always the one in the back of the bar. It wasn’t until I moved to Pittsburgh where I felt accepted.”

He added, “In September 2011, I was transferred with my job, from Florida to Pittsburgh. I didn’t know anyone so I got involved. I joined the Steel City Softball League, playing with the Mary’s, and I went to Leather Central and started meeting people.”

He felt accepted for the first time. He said, “I met the bartenders and there was no judging. Everyone there was so nice. For a long time I tried to find my niche in the gay community. I never felt comfortable. In Pittsburgh, I discovered who I really am.”

He added, “I met this great group of people at Donny’s/Leather Central. They became my family. I got a whole new social life.”

In 2012, he entered the competition and became a 1st Runner Up and was determined to keep competing. The Tennessee-raised Birdwell, an architect now based in Tampa, says he became active in the leather community precisely because of the encouragement of the many mentors he found while living in Pittsburgh’s supportive community.

Joe, while no longer a Pittsburgher, wears his sash with pride. He said, “I got this great opportunity to transfer back to Florida, and my partner still lived there. So, I moved back. But I loved living in Pittsburgh. Everyone is so welcoming. The Three Rivers Leather Club is a small, tight-knit group of people with the same interests. There is no judging. Everyone is a family member. It’s a very accepting group of people. I have my real family and I have my Pittsburgh family.”

He added, “If my partner didn’t live in Florida, I’d still be there.” He reflected on the beautiful scenery of the city and waxed poetic about the changing seasons. Then, he added, “Except the snow. I don’t really like the snow.”

Joe will continue to represent Pittsburgh later this year in Chicago. Over Memorial Day Weekend, May 24 – 27, Birdwell will compete in the 35th annual International Mr. Leather (IML) contest at the Marriott in downtown Chicago. Members of the Three Rivers Leather Club will be there to cheer him on.

And the LGBT community will be doing so from Pittsburgh!

For more info about TRLC, visit trlc.net

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)