Leather Knights show their fun and charitable sides with A Weekend of Leather


SHIP AHOY | For nearly 20 years, Leather Knights — co-founded by Steve Waldren — have been a service organization. But they know how to party, too — like sailors. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Contributing Writer

For the uninitiated, A Weekend of Leather sounds intimidating. Or confusing. It’s definitely no trunk show of trendy coats, or a shoe-fetish expo. But neither is it a reckless three days of uninhibited debauchery. Well, for some maybe, but the goal of the event for the Leather Knights is to celebrate Pride of the cowhide.

“AWOL is definitely a party atmosphere,” says Steve Waldren, social chair of the Leather Knights and the sole founding member still active in the group. “We just want people to come have a good time. There will probably be a few serious moments, but this is a weekend party.”

Military themes play well into leather culture and for this fourth time around, the Knights look to the open seas for Fleet Week. Or at least some really hot shore leave.

“The first three run names had covered other branches of the armed services, and this year, it was to be a naval theme,” says Knights president Jeffrey Payne. It’s the group’s big shot to show off Dallas as a leather destination (even during 100-degree days), and with a well-paced growth over previous years, Waldren believes both the city and the organization are on their way.

“Oh, I think it’s going to start happening,” he says. “With people like Jeffrey [former IML champ] and [new International Leather Sir] Jack Duke, everyone knows them and we’re thrilled they are both members. That helps a lot.”

“If we keep going at [our current growth] rate, we could maybe someday be as big as the Texas Bear Round Up,” adds member Bayles Melton.

It’s not all about parties, though. For nearly 20 years, Leather Knights has existed not just as a haven of camaraderie for leathermen, but as a social service organization.

“It was founded in a different time, when AIDS was the issue,” Melton says. “It still is a big issue, but since 1992, the group has expanded to help other groups, like Youth First Texas. I think that’s what I find fulfilling. You can belong to this sincere group of guys who want to help the community. It serves a purpose. I believe that if we can’t be of service to someone, we won’t be of service to ourselves.”

AWOL 4 will benefit an organization named after Payne’s mother, the Sharon St. Cyr Fund. Every special event the Knights host benefits a local charity; Waldren explains that they specifically choose different beneficiaries with each event to spread the wealth. As the sole original member since the group’s inception in 1992, he’s pleased by the legacy the Knights have created thus far.

Waldren and a group of friends including his late husband Paul Tozier came up with the idea at the then-Throckmorton Mining Company of beginning the club. They clearly stated that it was to be both a social and a service organization. When the group signed its charter in 1993 and hung their signature black and gold colors in the bar, the Leather Knights were officially born.

“I’m so proud of what it’s grown to,” he says.

But AWOL 4 will be about having a spankin’ good time — or as Melton puts it, “Just doing nothing but enjoying life.” AWOL 4 really gets going on Friday with an opening mixer followed by a cigar social at Blue Smoke. But the night is highlighted by the Leather Invasion Bar Crawl visiting Woody’s, the

Round-Up Saloon, Hidden Door and more. The Eagle Bears serve breakfast Saturday morning with a spa excursion to Club Dallas following (they aren’t going for mani-pedis). But the centerpiece event of AWOL happens Saturday night at the Mr. Leather Knights Contest in the Rose Room.

Wait, the Rose Room? The place known primarily for drag shows?

“Yeah!” Waldren says. “It’s another thing that makes me proud of the group. We’ve never been afraid to be leather people in places like JR.’s or the Rose Room where our dinner and contest will be. I’m proud that we’re out there with all the community and not only at the Eagle or the Hidden Door.”

This year, three contestants will vie for the title with the winner representing the club throughout the coming year while traveling across the country, including 2013 International Mr. Leather next May in Chicago. Post contest, registered members will celebrate at the Victory Pool Party and Lord’s Cigar Social back at the hotel.

“We raise money for the community and we share great energy and fellowship with other leather communities,” Melton says. “What could be better than that?“

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2012.