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Reign Delay: C. Lee Hill is ‘Leatherman of Color’ 2020

Photo credit Caiolinn Ertel

Updated July 14, 2021 at 8:17 PM

Pittsburgh native C. Lee Hill, Jr. is the current reigning “Leatherman of Color”. Hill won the competition in 2020 and due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he remains the titleholder. The “Leatherman of Color” competition was created by Mufasa Ali in 2005 with the purpose of creating a presence for men of color at international leather competitions. “To date, it has had an enormous impact in that other leather clubs have now had men of color win their competitions and then go on to compete in the International Mr. Leather,” says Hill. Due to the changing nature of the pandemic, it is unknown when the next competition will be held; however, spring 2022 looks to be the likely time for Hill’s title defense. 

The Leather community and its many clubs, titles, and competitions are a subsection of the LGBTQ+ community with roots dating back to the earliest days of the burgeoning gay community after World War II. Drawing a distinct aesthetic inspiration from early motorcycle clubs, Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler in “The Wild One”, and the art of Tom of Finland, the Leather community has grown expansive and often challenges the stereotypes of femininity/masculinity on the LGBTQ+ Community.

Photo credit Caiolinn Ertel

For some who are not in the leather community, the thought of a leather competition might be quite perplexing. After all, what does it entail? Hill explains the format of “Leatherman of Color” and says that most leather competitions operate in a very similar fashion. To begin there are two main components – attire and personality. The attire section is broken down into three categories: bar wear, leather fetish/fantasy, and formal leather. While many may think that the majority of the judging is weighted on this portion of the competition, Hill says that it is actually the other way around.

An on-stage question and a private interview with the judges rounds out the personality part of the judging. The first question is aimed to see how the competitor interacts in front of the crowd. The interview is aimed to see how the competitor would represent the community. Questions generally ask why the competitor wants to be “Leatherman of Color” or how they see themselves growing with the title. Hill says that it’s all about being genuine in yourself and not being phony. 

Because of the emphasis on the interview and question portion, Hill believes that the contestant is more competing against themself rather than the other contestants in the room. Hill recounts his own interview process. He was told by the judges that he came off as theatrical – trying to put on a show for the judges. In the following question, he described one of the pins that adorns his vest as a representation of his mother. Describing what his mother meant to him brought him to tears and for the rest of the competition, he was in tears. It was through this experience that Hill felt he had “presented his authentic self.”

Photo courtesy of C. Lee Hill, Jr.

Hill believes that the “Leatherman of Color” competition truly offers and allows for “a different perspective to be presented” in leather spaces. Hill cites his leather father Jack Thompson, the previous Leatherman of Color, as an example of this different perspective. Thompson was the first Black trans man to win the title of International Mr. Leather. 

In the time since winning the competition, Lee has done further introspection to discover more of his genuine self. Through this, he found and now lives by the concept of ubuntu – an African philosophy. He self defines it as “I am because we are; If I am to be great, you have to be great; I win, we all win.” 

As Leatherman of Color 2020, Lee has worked with local organization Brave Heart United. The organization is focused on combating LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. The organization aims to give those that need help long-term solutions. This includes teaching them about financial planning, helping them find a job, and helping them get an education. Hill says the organization is another great example of the ubuntu mindset. “By teaching these young people how to flourish by themselves it helps the LGBTQ+ community be great in the long term.” 

C. Lee Hill with board members of Brave Heart United. Photo courtesy of C. Lee Hill, Jr.

Hill wants everyone to find their own greatness and wishes to contribute to that. “I can’t make [the title of Mr. Leatherman of color] the end all be all because when it’s all said and done… you’re only left with yourself.” He aims to continue to share his own perspective and story to help to empower others to find their own greatness and build their own community. 

Updated to clarify Jack Thompson as the first black trans man to win International Mr. Leather.

Boomba Nishikawa
After moving to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2013, Boomba became active in the community attending and organizing climate rallies and events. They are very passionate about advocating for a better Pittsburgh.