Two leather club presidents walk into a bar … No, this isn’t the start of one of my comedy routines, this is what happened on Saturday, July 11th when I had the pleasure to sit down with the president of the Centaur MC Todd White at the Baltimore Eagle.
As the president of the ShipMates, I was looking for 2020 to be another big year for our club. For Todd, this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Centaur MC, which planned to follow the incredible success of the club’s Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend (MAL) in January with a big anniversary celebration scheduled for May. With the flood of canceled events, closed businesses, illness, and deaths, it is no joke how this year has turned out. It was a pleasant and much needed escape for me to sit down with Todd and learn about his leather journey.
Born in the small town of Martinsville, Virginia, (population 13,821) Todd describes his childhood as nice and uneventful. Although he did not come out as gay until college, he always knew that he was gay and in school became involved in dance, not sports. He didn’t experience much harassment in his small town and attributes that to the fact that his father was a respected manager for DuPont, one of the town’s major industries. Years later, he would learn that other classmates who were LGBTQ looked up to him and admired him for having the courage to be himself. I guess a true role model is one who doesn’t think of himself as a role model.
While at Radford University, Todd was involved in ballet. During a production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” a dancer from Atlanta was brought in to join the company. Not only did he help with the production, he was Todd’s first gay sexual experience. (I’ll let you add your own nutcracker joke here – it’s too easy.)
Todd started wearing leather as a male entertainer and as his “club wear” as a contestant in contests, taking the title of Mr. Gay United States 2005. When he moved to Washington, he started hanging out at the DC Eagle. When a relationship ended, he moved to Falls Church, Virginia. He now lives in Baltimore. Eventually, he met the president of the Centaur MC, Skip Mlaker, who invited Todd to attend a club meeting. After five years of volunteering and working with the Centaur MC, Todd was asked if he would rather be a contestant for Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather (a contest produced by the Centaur MC) or become a member of the club. He has now been a Centaur MC member for over 13 years and has held the offices of treasurer, tribune, vice president, and this is his sixth term as club president.
I tried to get some behind-the-scenes dirt on the big MAL weekend, but even buying Todd another drink didn’t help. Todd said that the Centaur MC, which was started in Virginia, lives by that old Southern idiom: Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. He explained that although MAL is an enormous event, there are persons who chair each element of it: contest, leather vendor mart, leather cocktails, decorations, etc. They all work hard all weekend. The club always gets to the ballroom a half hour before the formal leather cocktail party starts. Todd said there was an emergency one year when the big live floral arrangements didn’t get watered and were wilting! The Centaur MC have a motto: Never let them see you sweat and if you are going to argue, do it behind the curtain. To the many members of the leather community who attend MAL each year, the event always appears flawless.
After last January’s MAL (which was obviously a hit because the 880-room host hotel sold out in 45 minutes for January 2021!), a video appeared on YouTube entitled: “Why Millennials Aren’t Attending Leather Competitions – MAL 2020 Contest Review.” I couldn’t resist asking Todd if he had seen the video. He was quick to state that not only had he seen it, but every member of the Centaur MC watched it and took it to heart. Although some of the constructive criticism was useful, some comments show a clear misunderstanding of club’s traditions and leather protocols. For example, the video mentions the lack of filler entertainment during the contest. For years the Centaur MC hired big names: Jennifer Holiday, Kathy Najimy, Sandra Bernhard, Judy Gold, CeCe Peniston, Varla Jean Merman, and many others. The performers were costly, and the cost cut into the profits from MAL which are donated to various charities. (The last few MALs each raised over $100,000.) The performers also added another hour or so to the contest. A few years ago, when looking to cut cost the club eliminated the filler entertainment. (Another choice would have been the open bar during leather cocktails.) Most attendees feel the Centaurs made the right choice.
I ended with the difficult question: Is MAL 2021 going to take place in January and if so, what will it look like? Right now, any large conventions and events are not allowed in DC. It is hard to predict what January will bring. The Centaur MC hope to vote and decide in October. There is a very good chance that Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2020 David Spivey will continue his title in 2021. Since the International Mr. Leather 2020 Contest in Chicago was canceled this year, he did not get the chance to compete. Also, all the regular feeder contest for MAL – Mr. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish, Mr. Mayhem Leather, Mr. Maryland Leather (which traditionally sent the first runner-up), etc. – have all been canceled for 2020. If MAL is held in January, it may be held without a contest. The Centaur MC would move one of the other elements like the very popular ONYX cocktail party and gear show which traditionally happens on Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon to replace the contest. At this point in time, everything is up in the air. It is just too earlier to predict what January will bring. Like most clubs right now the Centaur MC is hosting meetings via Zoom and holding virtual happy hours. Todd says that the virtual events have been fun because they have allowed members who live far away to join in and may continue after the current situation is over.
Todd is personally aware of the issues with the coronavirus. Not only does he work in the medical field, shortly after he and his fiancée David Dean returned from the Mr. Leather Belgium Contest this winter, David was hospitalized with the virus. This forced Todd to do a lot of self-reflecting. Although he loves his club family, over the last few years he feels like he has placed his relationship and personal life on hold. After he finishes this term as club president, he plans to step back a little. If this virus has taught us anything it is that life is short, and the future isn’t promised.
The evening lifted my spirits. Thank God for my leather friends such as Todd White. As I sat in the Baltimore Eagle with Todd, we laughed and reminisced. After all, there are lots of stories to tell when two leather club presidents walk into a bar!
- Rodney is originally from Hagerstown, Maryland and for many years has lived in Baltimore. In April 2017, Rodney was sworn in for his 10th year as the President of the ShipMates Club of Baltimore. He has been involved in the leather community for many years, but often denies that he sold Jell-O shots at The Last Supper. He has been writing THE LEATHER LINE for the BALTIMORE OUTLOUD newspaper (Baltimoreoutloud.com.) for over fourteen years. He has produced the Mr. & Ms. Baltimore Eagle Contest and the Maryland LeatherSIR/Leatherboy Contest. In 2001 he was proud to serve as Maryland Mr. Drummer 2001. Rodney also does stand-up comedy and in 2013 was thrilled to perform at Philadelphia Leather Pride Night. He has been nominated multiple times for a Pantheon of Leather Award, was selected Leather Man of the Year in 2013 by COMMAND M.C. and by the Baltimore Leather Association of the Deaf in 2006. The 11th annual 12 Days of Christmas benefit show was dedicated to Rodney and his partner Sir Steve. He has been twice selected as ShipMate of the Year. He has judged Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2015, Atlantic States LeatherSIR / Leatherboy and recently judged Mr. Eagle NYC 2018. He is delighted to be able to bring news of his beloved leather community to his readers every issue.