PASSINGS: Chuck Renslow, leather community founder

Updated with comments from IML, Center on Halstead, and the Leather Archives & Museum.

CHICAGO — It was announced today that Chuck Renslow, founder of International Mr. Leather and co-founder of the Leather Archives & Museum, has passed away. He was 87.

The news was announced on Facebook by Tracy Baim, publisher of the Windy City Times. The news was still reverberating across the global leather community on Thursday afternoon. The impact of Chuck on the leather community was, without exaggeration, legendary.

IML posted a memorial statement about Chuck on their website. In 1959, he founded the Gold Coast, one of the first leather bars in the world, in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood with his partner the artist Dom Orejudos (Etienne). The Gold Coast was also the home of the very first leather contest which became International Mr. Leather in 1979. Chuck also owned numerous bars and businesses in Chicago: restaurants, an adult book store, a hotel, health clubs, discos, and more. When Chicago’s gay community faced the loss of its newspaper, Renslow even bailed out and ran GayLife. He even served as a field contact for the Kinsey Institute. He was on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a U.S. Representative to ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association). He was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1991.

“Chuck Renslow has been a longtime supporter of Center on Halsted since the beginning of Horizons. He has always been an advocate of our Youth Program. In fact, he even paid the rent went were in financial straits and we really needed help to continue with our programs and services”, Center on Halsted CEO Tico Valle CEO said in a statement on the Center’s Facebook page.

“The staff and board of the Leather Archives & Museum are saddened to hear of Chuck Renslow’s passing,” the LA&M said in an emailed statement. “As LA&M’s co-founder, Chuck gave deeply and worked with great passion for over 26 years to save the names and faces of Leather, kink, BDSM and fetish people, communities, and history, and he fought to ensure that Leatherfolk were the ones who would ‘tell’ their own stories so that they might better understand and bring enhanced visibility to ‘Leather history.’ As co-founder, longtime President and, most recently, Chairman of the Board, Chuck has left his mark throughout our institution and touched each of us very deeply. He will be missed.”

As of 8 p.m. on Thursday, we knew of impromptu gatherings in his memory taking place at Chicago’s CellBlock bar, Gregg’s in Indianapolis, the Saloon in Minneapolis and CHILLBar in New Albany, Ind. People across the world headed to their local leather or leather-friendly bars to raise a toast to Chuck.

The Leather Archives will have a letter writing station available during museum hours where people can write letters to Chuck that we be bundled and given to the Renslow Family. Those who cannot visit LA&M are welcome to write a letter or send a postcard to Chuck and mail it to 6418 N. Greenview Ave., Chicago, IL 60626 USA. Letters via post only, please.

For those who wish to hold memorial or celebration services, the LA&M has created a page containing high resolution images of Chuck and a brief biography from IML. You can locate these resources at

From the staff of the Great Lakes Den and Illinois Eagle, we give our heartfelt condolences.