A gay Santa is retiring after 30 years of impersonating the most famous North Pole resident, and he is donating his family collection of Santa suits to a historical society where they will appear alongside archives of his LGBT+ activism.
Leo Treadway, 76, is an AIDS and LGBT+ activist, a mental health counsellor, a church leader and an official member of Minnesota’s “real-bearded” North Star Santas.
Among many other projects, he served on the Governor’s Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Minnesotans, was an adult leader in the Lesbian and Gay Youth Together organisation and worked as a consultant for Minneapolis schools on issues relating to LGBT+ kids.
Throughout his life, Treadway has also collected correspondence, agendas, bylaws, minutes, financial reports, notes, newsletters, brochures, miscellaneous printed matter, and newspaper clippings of the LGBT+ rights movement in Minnesota, and previously donated them to the Minnesota Historical Society.
But according to the West Central Tribune, when Treadway returned from the Vietnam war in 1987 he noticed that his voluminous beard was beginning to turn white.
He realised that the time had come to put on the red suit handed down to him by his father, and take on the role of Santa Claus, appearing in church, family gatherings and various Christmas celebrations.
When his father’s red suit began to come apart at the seams, the gay Santa worked with local designers to commission a series of new suits based on European interpretations of Santa, from St. Nicholas to the ancient Yule Goat-man of Finland Joulupukki.
Now, retiring from his festive role, his trademark suits will join archives documenting his lifelong commitment to advocating for the LGBT+ community.
Describing his attitude to portraying Santa Claus, especially during the 2007 to 2009 recession, he told the West Central Tribune: “I transitioned from the kind of traditional conversation that Santa has with kids: ‘Hi, how are you, what do you want for Christmas?’
“I transitioned to ‘tell me how you’ve helped somebody this year,’ which was a question they were totally unprepared for.
“For me, it was less about ‘I’ve been good’ to making them think about good things they’ve done.”