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Austin | © Megan Ann/Wikimedia Commons
Austin | © Megan Ann/Wikimedia Commons

How Austin’s Leslie Cochran Day is Keeping Austin Weird

Picture of Jessica Devenyns
Updated: 7 March 2018

Although rapidly changing due to its explosive growth, some things in Austin never change. One of those pillars that make the city so beloved is it’s commitment to the strange and unusual. To highlight that fact, in Austin, March 8th is dedicated to a homeless, bearded, thong-wearing, high-heel strutting man named Leslie Cochran. Known locally simply as Leslie, it wasn’t unusual to spot him parading around the corner of 6th and Congress with a feathered boa, a thong and a smile on his face.

For 15 years, this gregarious fixture of Austin wandered the streets striking up lively conversations and engaging people in the conversation on homelessness in Austin. Despite his antics, Leslie was a well-spoken activist whose opinions were founded in fact and eloquently spoken. After only four years of proselytizing on the streets, his activism launched this unforgettable figure into politics when he ran for mayor in 2000, coming in second place with 7.5% of the vote. He ran again in 2003 and lost, but his campaign was forever immortalized in the minds of the public.

Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder

One could argue that Austin’s now-famous slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” was epitomized by Austin’s own homeless, cross-dressing, thong-wearing weirdo, but locals would tell you that he didn’t just embody the spirit, he helped invent it.

In 1996 when Leslie arrived in Austin, he almost immediately gained notoriety for his wardrobe of extra-small women’s clothing that he sported. By the time he ran for mayor, almost everyone had a story about the one time they mistook Leslie for a woman in risqué attire only to be stunned when he turned around to display his goatee and offer a kind word.

For over a decade, this icon remained in the public eye, becoming a sort of trademark for the city. In 2009, however, things took a turn for the worse when Leslie had a debilitating seizure that sent him to the hospital and into a coma. His health crisis marked a turning point for Leslie, and his life on the streets became less of a choice.

Leslie lives on

In 2012, Leslie Cochran passed away. At the time, local media reported that his mental state had been in decline for several years and he had lost his status as the apple of the public’s eye. Nevertheless, after his death, Mayor Lee Leffingwell magnanimously dedicated March 8, the anniversary of his journey into the beyond, as Leslie Cochran Day.

Each year, City Council holds a moment of silence in his memory and people parade around the streets in Leslie memorabilia. You’ll see magnets for sale (Leslie used to sell magnets of himself) and if you’re lucky, you might see an Austinite or two in ankle-breading heels and a boa. For everyone, however, March 8th is a day to commemorate being different and remember that it is the weirdos who are the lifeblood of Austin.