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Object of the Month May: Leather Pride Flag

1. May 2019

When Tony DeBlase presented his draft for the Leather Pride Flag at the 11th International Mr. Leather Chicago on May 28th, 1989, he never would have imagined that his design would leave such a lasting impression.

The “mother of all Pride flags”, the rainbow flag, was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 and made its debut at the San Francisco Pride Parade. Inspired by the rainbow flag, DeBlase wanted to create a flag for the leather scene to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The final draft: nine horizontal stripes alternating between black and royal blue, the middle stripe white, and a red heart in the top left section. In the original draft the middle stripe was also red, but a designer friend advised DeBlase to change it so that the red heart had more “bite.” According to DeBlase’s own statement, this change was the only departure from his original idea.

DeBlase originally presented the flag as a draft and wanted it to be a point of discussion from which the leather scene could exchange ideas and thus develop its own distinctive symbol. However, the flag was quickly adopted by the leather scene and the draft remained unchanged. Soon many local and national leather clubs took up the flag and integrated it into their logos. There are even Australian and Canadian variants.

Unlike Baker, DeBlase gave no clarification about the significance of the flag’s colors but rather left the meaning and symbolism up to interpretation.

The Leather Pride flag is at the beginning of a long line of similar flags, marking a turning point in the history of the mostly gay leather and BDSM movements: moving away from secret signs and symbols (hanky cloths, for example) to more obvious and public visibility, both in the gay scene and society in general.

On display here are articles, flyers, stickers and magnets from various leather clubs from Germany, Great Britain and Italy that have adapted the flag to their needs.