By Michelle Talsma Everson
Leather culture is a unique niche of the LGBTQ landscape, and leather title contests go back decades. Stephen Bloom and Kenneth Anthony know—both former leather titleholders of the Padlock/Cellblock Phoenix — the duo created the Mr. Phoenix Leather contest in 2009 when the bar closed in 2008.
Now, in 2019, the contest has opened its doors to female-identifying contestants as the Mr. & Ms. Phoenix Leather (MMPL). Bloom says that adding the Ms. Phoenix Leather title is important for “continuing to build connection, cooperation and unity with all the facets of our family and community.”
“Our event welcomes and celebrates the LGBTA and the pansexual and heterosexual kink community,” Anthony adds. “The contest event is a major gathering of our ‘tribe’ every year for those who associate with or want to learn about and support our community. And throwing a great party for our attendees.”
When asked what they think the secret to the contest’s decade-plus history is, Bloom shares: “Our deep convictions of the value of, and our support of our ‘tribe,’ along with the generous assistance of our partner businesses, organizations and the greater community who support us in our convictions.”
(A list of the event partners can be found here.)
This year’s titleholders are Mr. Phoenix Leather Sbudz Budzyn and Ms. Phoenix Leather Samantha Heart. Sbudz will be competing at this year’s International Mr. Leather Contest, and Samantha will be competing at the International Ms. Leather Contest in 2020.
“Along the way, we hope they present informational and educational social events and promote fundraising opportunities for charities they choose to benefit our great family here in Phoenix and Arizona,” Bloom says.
Q & A with Mr. and Ms. Phoenix Leather
We recently caught up with Mr. Phoenix Leather Sbudz Budzyn and Ms. Phoenix Leather Samantha Heart to learn about them and their new titles.
Echo: How long have you been involved in the leather community and how did you get started?
Sbudz: I first ventured out to the leather scene in 2015, which has been an amazing journey. The journey is constantly changing and will always be evolving as my life continues. As of now, I feel that being a leather boy has gone into a calmer, less chaotic stage; it is more of a time of reflection and wanting to help mentor others. I am excited to see where life takes me next within the leather community. I remember watching a movie (“Police Academy”) as a child and being enthralled by the cool, leather-clad, “badass” bikers – these guys could take care of business. It also surprised and excited me when the scene turned into a dance number! This was my very first exposure to the subculture known as leather.
Samantha: I joined the Phoenix kink community on December 3, 2012, through the Arizona Power Exchange (APEX). It was through APEX that I found opportunities to connect with people, obtain education about our lifestyle, build skill sets, and most importantly created a foundation for me to explore myself. Quickly, I met a diverse group of people and dived into volunteering. Within my first year, I joined the Executive Committee and found purpose in the club that fed me. I went to as many workshops as I could, demoed, and was open to learning as much as possible. Then I started facilitating and then helping others facilitate. As I met people, I learned about Arizona Pups and Handlers and explored pup play. This led me to the Phoenix Boys of Leather in 2013. As I continued to build connections, I met people from Arizona Men Of Leather and then the Sisters. I explored the Southwest Leather Conference and Butchmanns. I started traveling to Tucson and then conferences out of state. I volunteered next to the Dragon Clan and other local leather events. As I branched out I discovered that Arizona was filled with so many clubs, organizations, cultures, all radiant and rich, however, felt pretty divided from where I was in my journey. It was about 2014 when I stood in the back alley of APEX with a good friend and was asked what I wanted … “Bridge” was my word. I wanted to build bridges. I made APEX my home until late 2017 until my bridging turned into Arizona as a whole becoming my home. I started building stronger relationships with the gay leather community and embraced the Phoenix Boys of Leather with more of my energy and time. I started helping with fundraising and building a brotherhood I never felt before. There was something bigger, and I was ready to be a part of it.
Echo: What inspired you to compete in the Mr. & Ms. Phoenix Leather contest?
Sbudz: My leather brothers and mentors along with the vast history of the leather community in Phoenix greatly inspired me to compete. When I look upon the rich history of the Mr. Padlock, Mr. Cellblock, and then Mr. Phoenix Leather titleholders, I find myself in a state of awe – these are all well-respected leather folks and leaders not only in our local community but leaders in the international leather scene. Being a part of this lineage makes my heart swell, and I am very proud to represent all of the Phoenix and Arizona leather communities.
Samantha: In January 2018 I was given the opportunity to volunteer at Mr. Phoenix Leather. I was thrilled! I was to learn that evening that in 2019 Ms. Phoenix Leather would be joining the title family for the very first time. As that announcement was made, I heard it ring through my body. I knew I would be running. New to titles, I spent the following year dedicating myself to our local leather community. I wanted to learn about our history, modern leather, learn about people and was inspired by so many individuals it would take a book to share the wealth. As my boots walked in between clubs, cultures, and events, even more connections and bridges were being built. I knew Ms. Phoenix Leather’s title would only provide me more tools and opportunities to contribute to our rich and diverse community as a whole.
Echo: What is your platform for your title year?
Sbudz: Inclusivity. I would like to expose my leather community as one that is willing to open their hearts and lives to all. I want to bring parts of the LGBT community to my inner circle so they can experience what I have experienced — to find the friendship and love of some amazing brothers and sisters.
Samantha: I have a simple platform: Bridge. Community, tribe, special niches, and specialized clubs and groups are very important. They provide so much for us. However, from time to time meeting someone new who runs in different circles, visiting different events or cultures, learning from one another and in special circumstances working together for a common goal is also important.
Echo: What do you hope to accomplish during your title year?
Samantha: Sbudz and I decided to team together this year. Our goals are united. We want to bridge, volunteer, provide education, and fundraise for charity. We hope to build bridges in our community. To be specific, provide opportunities and events for different organizations/clubs to meet and network. We want to volunteer at every event possible we can get to and support as many organizations as possible. We want to come together and provide a class or two we can offer our community as a whole. We want to help fundraise for a variety of causes. And we really want to be there for our leather community. Aside from those general goals, I have a side pet project: I am hoping to partner up with the Phoenix Girls of Leather for an annual fundraiser for the trans community. It’s in the works.
Sbudz: I want to show other communities that no matter what Arizona is going through politically that the leather community is inclusive and loves everyone. No matter how tough life can get, I want to show others that they are accepted for the kinks they possess.
Echo: Is there anyone you’d like to recognize who has been a part of this journey?
Sbudz: I would like to recognize the Arizona Men of Leather, Arizona Pups and Handlers, and most importantly, the Phoenix Boys Of Leather, as these groups have provided friendships, bonds, and brothers that will last a lifetime. The list of individuals I would like to recognize is way too extensive, which is a blessing to have so many great mentors and friends that impact my daily life and journey.
Samantha: There are many people and organizations that have been a part of my journey, and I will gladly share those to any person who asks me in person. But, let me take the time to recognize one individual, Alice. As of April 6, 2019, Alice will be my wife. I am confident I would not be the person I am today without her love and support. Thank you, Alice, for being mine.
Follow Sbudz and Samantha’s adventures on Facebook.