According to journalist Liz Highleyman (“Past Out”), gay “motorcycle clubs, a mainstay of gay culture since the 1950s, ushered in a new brand of queer masculinity and gave rise to today’s leather/SM community.” The first gay motorcycle club, the Los Angeles Satyrs, began in 1954 and is still in existence.
In South Florida, the Thebans Motorcycle Club, Inc. of Miami began its history as a domestic, nonprofit corporation on Aug. 6, 1975. By 1976 the Thebans were important enough to be one of the cofounders of the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights. Theban Marty Rubin, “the Old Bike Daddy,” was active in the DCCHR and went on to chair Pride South Florida and write a popular column for twn (The Weekly News) and David.
By the 1990s, gay bike and leather clubs like the South Florida Eagles, Sunrays MC, the Brotherhood of Man MC, Stingrays, Saber MC, Key West Wreckers, and the South Florida chapter of Trident International were a major part of the local gay leather scene. These “patch” clubs, named after the patch or colors that members wore on their leather vests, were patterned after “outlaw” motorcycle clubs like the Hell’s Angels. They incorporated most of the exclusive rules, hierarchies, pledge periods, point systems and secret handshakes of the outlaw clubs. Gay leathermen gladly went through the rigorous pledge period to join one of the clubs and avoid the stigma of being a GDI, a “god-damned independent.” Like the late John Preston, they knew that the clubs satisfied “gay men’s need to bond in groups.”
During their golden age, roughly the late 70s and 80s, gay bike clubs were active in both the leather scene and in the “mainstream” LGBTQ community. They hosted parties, bar nights, leather “runs” (weekend outings) and fundraisers for gay and AIDS service groups. Bars like the Ramrod and Tacky’s welcomed club members’ patronage and were honored to be their “watering holes.” It was not unusual back then for a club member like Richard Sedlak to head groups like the Broward County Coalition for Human Rights, Pride South Florida or Center One. I have my own club history. Though I was not much of a biker, I was an active member of Saber MC from 1985 until the club declined around 2005. I served the Club in various offices, including President. Clubs like Saber MC were true brotherhoods for those who us who were members. I do not have any blood brothers, so Sabers were the brothers that I never had.
By the time Trident International of South Florida began in 1997, AIDS had put an end to the golden age of gay leather and bike clubs. According to a survivor, “by the time the nineties had started, drugs, and specifically crystal meth, had already been a specific element to the culture of sex parties, particularly among the FFA [a fetish club devoted to fisting]. People were dying with regularity.” By 1999, AIDS had taken most of the first generation of leathermen, including Marty Rubin. But it was not the end of South Florida’s gay leather scene. In the new millennium, a new generation of leathermen came of age who began their own clubs. They follow in the footsteps of men who are sadly gone but whose memory we still cherish.