By Laura Latzko, May 2017 Issue.
Jerry Heitman can still remember the smell of the leather chaps and saddles from the Kansas wheat and cattle ranch he grew up on. He loved it and found it very intriguing.
However, it wasn’t until his junior year in college that he went to his first leather bar and met a hot man in black leather chaps and a biker jacket – in that moment, he knew that was what he wanted.
Fast forward a couple decades and Heitman is celebrating his latest community title, he won the Mr. Phoenix Leather 2017 contest Jan. 8, and is preparing for his second trip to an international leather contest – his first experience landed him in the top 5 at the 2010 International Leather Boy contest.
“[I] truly believe that a title is something that should be used as a platform,” Heitman said. “I believe that titleholders have a responsibility to use the title so that they can be seen and heard. If you are going to represent the community, do it responsibility and do it to the best of your abilities.”
While Heitman hopes to be donning another title at International Mr. Leather Contest, taking place May 25-26 in Chicago, he’s already gotten to work here at home.
Having been involved in the leather community since the early 2000s, including participation in such groups as the Phoenix Boys of Leather and the Arizona Men of Leather, the former Southwest Leatherboy said being a leatherman is part of who he is as a person.
“The leather community represents brother/sisterhood where the values of respect, discipline and honor are earned and not taken lightly,” he said. “Integrity is still a practiced value.”
Along with the title of Mr. Phoenix Leather, Heitman is also the Dean for the College of Monarchs for the Imperial Sovereign Empire of Arizona. While serving as the court’s Emperor VI, he helped create the Leather Knight Award, which honors a member of the leather community who shows excellence in leadership.
Serving as Mr. Phoenix Leather, Heitman said, feels like a continuation of the work he did with the Imperial Court, and he plans to approach it in a similar way.
Maintaining Marriage Equality
With this title, however, Heitman has the support of his husband, American Leatherman 2003, Bill Mitchell. Heitman and Mitchell were married in 2015 and, together, the husbands are committed to remaining visible amid the uncertainty of the current political climate.
“This year I am focusing on C.O.M.E., an acronym that stands for “Continue Our Marriage Equality,” Heitman explained. “It is imperative we as a community continue to fight for our rights as married couples and not become complacent. We cannot allow ourselves to move backwards.”
One little-known fact about Heitman is that he has a twin brother who is also gay and married.
“This is another example of why marriage equality is important to me and [why] those like Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, and President Trump scare me to death,” he said. “We must not allow what we have fought for – and won – be taken away from us. We have already proven that together we can win this battle.”
A Leather Boy with a Service Hear
While marriage equality tops Heitman’s list of messages and goals for his reign, he said he also plans to support many other aspects of the LGBTQ community.
“Education is important and necessary for our community to grow and move forward,” he said. “My goal is to continue to support the Phoenix Pride Scholarship Fund and the Bryon Wiley Scholarship Fund spearheaded by Michael Gaffney and the Imperial Court of Arizona.”
Additionally, he’s already reached out to Tucson’s leather community, including Mr. Phoenix Leather 2016 Daniel Christopher O’Leary, to offer my support beyond Phoenix.
Another way in which he hopes to achieve that is by dispelling misconceptions surrounding the leather community as a whole – specifically the notion that it revolves entirely around sex, kink and fetishes.
“There is also, that people don’t see a lot of, the friendships, the bonds, the unity, the standing up, side by side,” Heitman said. “It truly is a brotherhood and sisterhood [and] leather is the common uniting factor.”
The Need for Leaders
Over the years, Heitman has seen the struggles and triumphs of the leather community – especially during the AIDS crisis – it’s emerging leaders have provided the strength needed for it to survive.
“We lost a lot of mentors in the leather community because of the AIDS Crisis,” Heitman said. “I was proud to see the brotherhood and sisterhood that have lived through that [step up].”
During his reign, Heitman also hopes to encourage younger people, in both the leather and greater LGBTQ community, to learn their history.
“I’m glad that some of us have been able to pave a road that’s been easier. That’s been our goal,” he said. “But at the same time, I think it’s important that the younger crowd know their history so they can draw strength, passion and motivation from that history.”
As the leather community continues to evolve, Heitman said it’s held on to it’s core values.
“For most of the leather community, respect and honor are something that they hold … very near-and-dear to their hearts,” Heitman said. “I think that comes from generations and generations back … I think that closeness, that respect, that honor and that creed still carries through.”
The International Stage
As part of his efforts to prepare for the International Mr. Leather Contest, Heitman has been working on his speech as well as his physique.
“… even though physical fitness does not define a leatherman, I want to be in the best physical shape I can be, so I have committed to working out three times a week,” he said.
Admittedly, Heitman has mixed feelings, which he said “go hand in hand,” as he looks toward to Chicago.
“The most daunting is the fear and weight of not representing the Phoenix community well,” he said, “and the most inspiring [thought] is having the opportunity to convey to the international leather community the strength and solidarity of our local leather community here in Arizona.”
Heitman will also carry the advice his predecessors, O’Leary and Pup Tugger (MPL 2015), passed along from their experiences, which he summarized as, “Stand for and be who you are. Stand true to yourself.”
For more information on the 2017 International Mr. Leather Contest, visit imrl.com.