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Mufasa Ali, Co-Founder of ONYX and Founder of Leatherman/Leatherwoman of Color Title

For many, the Leather community has always been seen as an extremely open and welcoming place. It’s a space where many come to explore the different aspects of the kink, fetish and BDSM culture, while also gaining a deeper understanding of their own sexuality and sexual preferences. However, there has also been a very prevalent and noticeable lack of adequate representation for people of color in the Leather community for many years.

In 1995, ONYX was created to provide space for men of color in the leather community, and to challenge the problematic traditions and standards that have shaped what it means to be a Leatherman.

Mufasa Ali is co-founder of ONYX, and founder of the Leatherman of Color and Leatherwoman of Color titles. I recently had a chance to talk to Mufasa about the founding of ONYX, the Leatherman/Leatherwoman contest, and the representation of people of color in the Leather community.

KJ: For those who don’t know, can you explain what ONYX is and why it was started?

MA: ONYX is a Leather Club founded for and run by gay and bi-spirited Men of Color (MOC) who choose to explore the leather lifestyle. Being founded in 1995, we are the longest standing People Of Color (POC) Leather Club in the world. 

ONYX acts as a bridge to the larger majority white leather community by providing Education, Exploration and Empowerment to men of color, as well as to the community at large. ONYX was founded on the premise that many times the topics in the leather community at-large do not address the specific needs and culture of MOC. 

Anyone can become an Associate of ONYX, but only MOC can become full voting Brothers. Brotherhood is also central to our mission, creating chosen family to travel to events, do community work and grow in leather knowledge and skills. Our membership/pledge process allows both newbies to the community and those who have been around the community to learn together as brothers about ONYX, the POC leather community, the larger leather community and explore where they fit in.

KJ: Who were all the founders of ONYX, yourself included?

MA: In 1995, I brought 4 other men together to form the first board of ONYX: Myself, Steve B, Nate G, David M and Wes G. Chicago/Midwest is the founding chapter. 

We now have nine regional chapters across the country: ONYX SE/Atlanta; ONYX Mid-Atlantic/DC-DMV; ONYX NE/NYC; ONYX SW/LA; ONYX Great Lakes/Detroit-Cleveland-Lexington-Toronto; ONYX NW/San Fran; ONYX Deep South/Ft. Lauderdale-Miami; and ONYX Lone Star/Dallas-Houston…and still growing.

KJ: When were the Leatherman/Leatherwoman of Color titles started?

MA: The Leatherman of Color (LOC) title was started in 2005 and the Leatherwoman of Color (LWOC) title was started in 2018.

KJ: Were the reasons behind the start of Leatherman/Leatherwoman of color titles very similar to the reason why ONYX was started

MA: Yes, they were. I competed in International Mr Leather (IML) in 1997 as the ONYX Leatherman, and in subsequent years of attending I did not see a great representation of MOC on that stage. Mr Ebony Leather was around until about 2001 and after that title went dormant I decided to found the LOC title. 

Representation is key. We now have had 3 recent MOC who have won IML, all who happen to be ONYX brothers, and many other MOC who have stepped up to represent local titles. It took time but MOC are now stepping up to the plate and from behind the curtain to represent and lead. 

There are even fewer women’s titles and again representation by WOC was lacking, and there was a call for a LWOC. Titles give a platform to inform the community and support the community.

KJ: What do you see in the future for ONYX?

MA: I see continued growth for ONYX. There is a need in the MOC community and the leather community. ONYX has been at the forefront of acceptance and embracing diversity within the leather community. 

We have always included and supported our Trans brothers in our membership. ONYX now has a National Council and a cadre of skilled educators across the country who are often called upon to speak to the intersections of race and gender fluidity within the leather community as well as to teach and demo fetish skills.

KJ: What do you see in the future for the Leatherman/Leatherwoman of Color titles?

MA: I see the LOC/LWOC titles continuing to represent and stand for diversity within the leather community. The current LOC 2019, Jack Thompson, an ONYX NW founding father, is also the current International Mr Leather 41. There have only been 5 black men to ever win IML and 3 have won within the last 5 years.

KJ: Do you think you will be producing any other titles any time soon?

MA: LOC/LWOC will be held in Baltimore at the Baltimore Playhouse this month as part of Mufasa’s Pride Fellowship Weekend. A new title has been added called the International Leather Warrior.

The new title, co-produced by myself, Mr. World Leather 2006/2007, and Goddess Lakshimi, Ms World 2003, celebrates those in the community who want to uplift their community service and social justice platform within the leather community. This title is open to any community member no matter how they identify.

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.