Bear is a State of Mind.
At least that’s what many in the Bear community say when asked what the criteria are for fitting that designation.
The KC Bear Mafia has heard it all: hairy or smooth, muscle bear or otter, big or chubby, daddy or cub. And some men who call themselves Bear admirers might not fit any of those stereotypes.
The one constant in the Bear community is being comfortable with who you are, in your own skin, regardless of pressures often felt in the gay community to be self-conscious about your physique. As the KC Bear Mafia website says, “Generally, if you believe you’re a bear then you are a bear! There’s room for everyone.”
The Bears are once again coming to Kansas City. The Mafia’s second annual event, “Bear Crossing 2: The Sequel,” will be Aug. 13-16, and the group has a full four-day schedule, all day and night. They also offer a la carte prices for people who can’t attend the entire weekend but want to attend the special parties and after-hour events. Events and prices are listed on their website:Bear CrossingKC.org.
The idea of embracing one’s “inner bear” is not new. Bear weekends and weeks have been available for years in cities across the world, and so have specialized magazines and websites. The successful Where The Bears Are web series is beginning its fourth season Aug. 24 (WhereTheBearsAre.tv). Online dating apps like Scruff and GROWLr have gained popularity, and gay bars have long embraced both the leather and bear communities. In Kansas City, Hamburger Mary’s and its companion bar, Industry, in Kansas City have had success with their monthly “Bear Bust.”
The KC Bear Mafia, a 501(c)(3) service organization, launched “Bear Crossing” in August 2014 to offer an alternative for Kansas Citians who enjoy Bear events, but had to travel to St. Louis or other cities to attend. The group expects participants in Bear Crossing 2 to be not only from the Kansas City metro, but also from other cities within driving distance, like Chicago, St. Louis, Columbia, Springfield, Wichita, Topeka, Omaha, Des Moines and even farther. They already have two registrations from England and the Netherlands.
Group members work with other cities to help them with their events, and it’s reciprocal when they need help with Bear Crossing.
“We were in St. Louis last weekend doing some fundraising,” said Matt Stanley, events chairman.
The KC Bear Mafia formed in 2009, and it relies on an all-volunteer group that meets regularly to plan how they can participate in service projects in Kansas City. For example, they recently volunteered to help with the Harvesters group, and last year, they did holiday gift wrapping for the Good Samaritan Project and volunteered to handle security at Latino Gay Pride.
“We’re always looking for new opportunities,” said David Lopez, volunteers chairman.
Stanley said, “We try and mix fun and service together when possible.”
The group holds meetings throughout the year at Good Samaritan Project, LIKEME Lighthouse, libraries and other locations to provide education on subjects as varied as resume-writing, job interviews, social media, power of attorney, STDs and Safe Sex, and more. Its Facebook page has 1,200 followers and 1,400 likes and is one of the best ways to keep up with meetings and events. Members said that a core group of 15-20 people does much of the work, with around 20 people at their meetings and 100 people at their events.
Larry Sharp, marketing chairman, said, “We just have administrative committees and each of those members are the leaders of their individual groups.”
This year’s Bear Crossing is a fundraiser for both the LIKEME Lighthouse and Good Samaritan Project. Last year’s event made it possible for the group to present a $7,500 check to the Lighthouse.
Some of the KC Bear Mafia’s events, like volleyball, are suitable for youth who are not yet 21.
“If it’s not at a bar, we don’t have age restrictions,” said Stanley.
The Mafia has already begun fundraising with the annual “Dragnarok” Bear Drag Show that was held June 14 at Missie B’s and raised $2,600.
They started planning for Bear Crossing this year around March.
“Trying to get people earlier is a way of trying to do bigger things,” said Stanley.
Lopez said that one reason for pursuing their tax-exempt status last year was to become more of a service organization.
“One of the great things that would be ideal,” said Lopez, “let’s say a member of our group felt passionate about including high school students. That would be a perfect use of the organization to say, ‘Hey guys, I have an idea to get involved with high schools. Is anyone interested?’ And that passion could invite other people. We support when our members want to get involved with the community.”
If You Go!
Bear Crossing has a full schedule of events for Aug. 13-16.
Find the details at Bear Crossing Schedule.
The registration fee is $115, and it includes the kickoff and after-hour parties, SplashDance, Furnado, breakfasts and dinner, transportation and more. Hotel reservations are separate. Online reservations end July 31