While record numbers of people descended upon the District for inaugural festivities, another kind of attraction was going on just down the road – the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend.

Sponsored by the Centaur Motorcycle Club, which, according to its Web site, “consists of a group of men with an enthusiastic interest in motorcycles, leather and other men,” 3,000 visitors gathered at the Washington Plaza Hotel for the world’s second-most popular leather enthusiast event, according to club member Larry Barat.

Barat said that the inauguration only helped brighten the mood.

“It was even bigger than anticipated … everybody was in a really good mood because of that other smaller event that was going on,” he said.

This year marked the 18th anniversary of MAL weekend. It was originally started as a Leather Cocktails party in 1975 in New York, which remains part of the weekend festivities. Highlights of the weekend include two evening dances, leather exhibits, night entertainment, the Leather Cocktails party and the Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather Contest. Six individuals competed in this year’s contest including winner Kip Holler of Baltimore who will go on to compete at the national level. This year’s entertainment was provided by actress and comedienne Kathy Najimy, who also took part in the contest after her segment.

Barat said that Najimy, an activist for gay rights, is just one example of the strong support of the LGBTQ community that converges during the weekend.

According to Barat, the MAL weekend is run completely by volunteers and is a convening point for people from age 18 to those well into their sixties, with diverse interests and “attire ranging from jeans and sneakers, to biker uniforms to full leather.”

“[The event is built upon] the people that come, that are good and loyal and come year after year,” he said.

Proceeds of the weekend and the contest go to Centaur MC’s favorite philanthropic organization, Brother Help Thyself. Though the organization was originally founded to support the Gay Men’s VD Clinic, it is now a sponsor of an array of smaller organizations through the dispersal of grants, focusing on groups that work with the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDS issues, according to the club’s Web site.

Barat said that he plans to take off from work for the remainder of January following the event to start preparations for the next year, which requires thousands of volunteer hours every year.

He also stated that a key part of the event is the camaraderie of the “self-dubbed Leather Folks,” a community which focuses on sexual freedom, privacy rights and advocacy for a more open society in which people are not judged by their lifestyles.

“A lot of people feel disconnected from the national LGBTQ organizations,” Barat said.

He added that some smaller events for the LGBTQ community that were not affiliated with the weekend had to change locations due to outside pressure on the hotels not to host the events, a move he considers to be an effort to embarrass the community during inaugural weekend.

Nevertheless, the inauguration was viewed positively by most of the MAL Weekenders.

“There was a lot of energy surrounding the weekend because people were excited about the new administration, [hoping] that the period of having our civil rights curtailed would be over,” Barat said. “Many people stayed on for inauguration and for many people it was two good things together.”

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