As he readies for International Mr. Leather in Chicago this weekend, Mr. Texas Leather 2012 Gabe Sims speaks out on diversity in the leather community, his victory … and hopes for his chances at IML

LEATHER DIVERSITY | As a 55-year-old African-American, Gabe Sims may not fit the stereotype of a leatherman, but he says it’s actually a very welcoming and warm community to all comers. (Terry Thompson/Dallas Voice)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

From the outside looking in, the leather community can seem enigmatic, its appeal elusive to some, undeniably powerful to others. With unique yet varied and highly specialized dress codes, social rituals and tight bonds among participants, it’s almost a secret organization within the niche that already is LGBT society.
But Gabe Sims, who was named Mr. Texas Leather earlier this year, is extremely proud to call himself a member. In a short five years, he’s gone from amateur to award-winning professional with remarkable ease.

Sims’ first venture into leather competitions was in 2007, and even that was behind the scenes: He produced the Mr. Firedancer Contest for his Firedancers club at the Hidden Door. (Currently, he holds the title “Supreme Chief of the Fire” — basically its president.) In 2009, Sims put together the Mr. Hidden Door Contest. But it wasn’t until this year that he finally entered his first two competitions, winning both: Mr. Hidden Door in the fall, followed quickly by Mr. Texas Leather 2012.

It’s a late start (Sims is 55) but an auspicious one for this Dallasite.

“Personally it’s an affirmation of my journey as a leatherman, as well as humbling to me, when I realize that I’m an inheritor of a great tradition, of past Mr. Texas Leathers — Robert Goode, Jeffery Payne, Jack Duke — and to be considered a role model by so many in the leather community,” he says. “The brotherhood, service and structure, as well as the outlaw sexuality of leather and uniform, of the leather community [are what] appealed to me. I prefer community, but it’s also a lifestyle. So I am split between the two terms.”

With his perfect 2-for-2 record, it’s clear Sims can achieve anything he sets his mind to. His military and service background was a vital part of his life for 20 years, serving in the Louisiana Army National Guard, the U.S. Army Reserve and as a volunteer firefighter. Currently, he’s keeping the country safe in a different capacity, working within the Department of Homeland Security. (His dedication and perseverance are also apparent in his relationship with Lance Hughes, his partner of 13 years.)

Winning Mr. Texas Leather includes several skills, evaluated by the panel of judges, such as interviews about personal kink history, how to dress in formal leathergear and public speaking ability. Winning it automatically qualified Sims to compete at International Mr. Leather, which takes place this weekend in Chicago. Two of the past three Mr. Texas Leather winners — Jeffrey Payne and Jack Duke — have done well at IML, with Duke second runner-up in 2010 and Payne winning the competition outright in 2009. Expectations could be high.

“God willing and the bayou don’t rise, I will become IML 34,” the Louisiana native confidently proclaims. (Confidence is another quality well-regarded in leather culture.) But Sims’ winning streak also debunks a common misperception of the leather community: That it is not welcoming to men and women of color. Bull, Sims declares.

“Personally, I beg to differ!” he exclaims. “There’s a rich history of men and women of color who have competed and won leather competitions. You have Robert Goode, Mr. Texas

Leather 2000, Ron Moore IML 1984,” as well as Lance Holeman, Mr. San Francisco Leather and IML 2010 First Runner Up, and Sara Vibes, IMSL (International Ms. Leather) 2011.

African-Americans have made inroads lately as well. “In other areas of the nation there’s an active participation of men and women of color in leather competitions. Approximately five to 10 percent of those competing in my IML class of 2012 are men of color,” Sims says. “I’m merely continuing the tradition of participants who are competing and winning. If there’s any stereotype that I hope I shatter it’s that if I can accomplish this, any person of color can do the same, given enough dedication and preparation … and stepping out of your comfort zone.”

And whatever your race or ethnicity, Dallas’ leather community is a warm and welcoming group to anyone with an interest in learning more about the culture.

“It’s very inclusive, supporting and evolving, though as any community and family it has its dysfunction, which is a good thing,” he says with a wink. As with any time you get gay men together, there’s bound to be the occasional dose of drama. “But paraphrasing Spock in Star Trek, ‘Drama is the constant of the universe,’” Sims says.

Check out Instant Tea at this weekend for updates about Sims’ status and performance at IML.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.