Excitement is steadily building towards the first annual Bear World Magazine Awards, taking place this fall. Thus far we have revealed the nominees and voting protocol for all categories in addition to doing a feature interview with our inaugural Bear World Icon Award winner Ali Lopez.
Today we want to introduce you to Adam Rodriguez-Routt, our honoree for the first Bear World Trailblazer Award. Adam is someone who has championed our community in a variety of ways, especially through the two events he oversees: North American Bear and World Bear Weekend. He has worked tirelessly to make these events fun, educational and inclusive. Through these events he has introduced the community to our beloved Mama Bear faction and has created titles for them at both events. And for that we want to honor and thank him.
I recently had the honor to sit down with Adam to discuss his many achievements. Check out our conversation below.
John Hernandez (JH): Hi Adam! Congrats on being named our first Trailblazer honoree! Well deserved. So let’s start at the beginning – What brought you to the bear community and what keeps you here?
Adam Rodriguez-Routt (ARR): In 2008, I began talking to a fella from Los Angeles who would later become my husband of 10 years. Victor was sassy and unapologetic about his lifestyle, and was so welcoming to everyone he encountered regardless of their background, size, gender, or ethnicity. He was very involved in the bear community in LA, and when he moved to Kentucky, he encouraged me to become more involved with our local bear group which was just getting started.
Over the years, I have gradually gotten more and more involved in our local club, The Kentucky Bourbon Bears, community outreach & fundraising, and have become an activist for the marginalized groups & individuals that are often overlooked or discriminated against. I have always had a passion for helping people, and making sure everyone I encounter feels loved and accepted. But without the nudge and never-ending support from my late-husband, I probably wouldn’t have ventured into this community that I now love and cherish.
What keeps me in the bear community? One word… family. Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is as lucky as I am to have a loving & accepting family. My mission… or passion (whichever word best fits) is to do my best to provide a safe space for attendees and ensure the folks I encounter along my path feel included. After being involved in the bear community for 15 years, each event I produce or attend feels like a big “family reunion”. I truly want others to experience that same feeling.
JH: Just beautiful! Now, North American Bear and World Bear Weekend have Mama Bear and Pet Titles. Why did you feel it was important to create space for female/nonbinary bears and Pets in the bear scene?
ARR: The bear scene was originally created to include people that were ostracized for not fitting into the “mainstream” gay community. Yet female, non-binary, and pets had been excluded from our scene for years because they didn’t identify as male or bear. By excluding these individuals, we were discriminating against them the same way the “mainstream gay scene” discriminated against the bear community decades ago. There are a lot of kick-ass females, non-binary individuals and pets out there that do amazing things for the community that I felt should be recognized and welcomed the same way we do for our bears.
In 2018 I, along with Mason Stryker (of Wolfstryker Leather), created World Bear Weekend – a truly all-inclusive event that celebrates all genders, ethnicities, sizes, and ages to co-mingle, participate, teach, learn, and compete as one “family” – without discrimination or separation. The vibe was so infectious that The Kentucky Bourbon Bears and North American Bear (NAB) Weekend changed their structure to include females and non-binary individuals as club members, participants, and contestants the following year. Pets were then added a year later.
JH: Have you experienced any pushback from male bears over your inclusion of female/ nonbinary bears?
ARR: Oh absolutely! In fact, the pushback I received from male bears is actually what ignited the creation of World Bear Weekend – to offer a more inclusive event. I tend to be a typical stubborn Taurus. When I am told no, I find other ways of getting things done. And ironically, when those same naysayers attended World Bear Weekend the first year, they saw that offering a more inclusive event was actually a breath of fresh air and realized that these mama bears that have been kept quiet all these years are truly a force to be reckoned with.
I, along with our female/non-binary title holders from NAB Weekend and World Bear Weekend, work diligently to advocate more inclusion at events that currently disallow female/non-binary representation. My hope is that more events will eventually welcome these important members of the community.
JH: What keeps you motivated to run both events each year?
ARR: I often chuckle that I must be insane to try to pull-off TWO sizable fundraising events each year. Even though I often get exhausted from spending countless hours of planning and preparing for these events – at the end of the day, I am reminded that my ultimate goal is to raise money for needy charities in our LGBTQ+ communities and to provide a safe & welcoming space for attendees that may never feel that sense of “belonging” in their local communities. For me, that is very rewarding.
JH: I can only imagine both the stress and the rewarding feeling! Speaking of stressors, World Bear Weekend will be held in Orlando. What do you say to the calls for boycotts against Florida by queer travelers as a way to get at DeSantis?
ARR: Our current rights as gay citizens wouldn’t exist today if our community had sat quietly and did nothing. By boycotting travel to Florida, you are giving DeSantis exactly what he wants. He wants to erase our existence, remove our rights, and fuel his agenda to spread hate to other states across the country. By not supporting World Bear Weekend or queer travel to Florida in general, you are also taking much-needed money out of the pockets of local LGBTQ+ businesses, workers, and charities that depend on that income to survive. All the while, DeSantis is smiling because that’s another LGBTQ+ business, charity, or event that will no longer be in existence. This will not stop in Florida if we do nothing about it. I urge everyone to do the opposite – let’s SHOW UP and be present. Spend money with these gay-owned businesses; support the charities; and let DeSantis know that we will not be erased!
JH: Its true, we cannot leave our queer brethren in Florida behind! What changes would you like to see in the bear community? Are there any other groups you feel we should welcome or make space for?
ARR: LGBTQ+ individuals often struggle with being accepted/cast out of their families due to their sexuality or deal with bullying in school and/or the workplace for a multitude of reasons. I would like to see more resources and awareness made available for those individuals that struggle with mental health. This should become a hot topic or workshop at every bear event, and we need to find ways/resources to provide support to anyone that needs a friendly & welcoming voice or a safe space to go to.
I feel we could also do a better job welcoming our straight & bisexual allies at our events & fundraisers. By allowing these individuals to be present and feel included, it would only strengthen our community – financially, and in number.
JH: Who or what has instilled your sense of justice and morality? Who inspires you?
ARR: I’ve had two excellent role models all of my life: my parents and the love they share with each other and to other people. The lessons they’ve taught me over the years… have been invaluable. They inspire me to be more like them and continue doing good things for my community.
JH: I love that. Tell me about the beneficiary charities for NAB and WBW. Why did you choose them?
ARR: We typically choose 3-4 LGBTQ+ charities for NAB Weekend each year – usually one from each of our affiliated areas of Kentucky (Lexington, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky). For the past few years, we have supported (3) organizations that provide STI testing and prevention services, housing, and career assistance for the gay community, as well as an organization in Lexington that provides food, shelter, and career assistance for the homeless. We feel it is important to give to these designated charities that offer assistance with STI’s and prevention to keep our community healthy, as well as help tackle the growing needs of our homeless population in Lexington.
For World Bear Weekend, we have chosen (1) global charity and (1) local charity from the city/state where the event is held that year. Our global charity is Rainbow Railroad – an organization similar to the Underground Railroad, which helps deliver LGBTQ+ individuals that live in an unsafe country/region (where they may be killed or imprisoned for being gay) to a safer country or region. This year, for our local Orlando charity, we have selected The Center: Transgender Advocacy Funds to help provide financial assistance for Gender Marker/Name Changes, Receiving Gender Affirming Care, and Gender Affirming Surgery.
JH: Great choices. What is next for you?
ARR: My plans are to slowly transition some of my producer duties of NAB Weekend and World Bear Weekend to the next generation of bear members in our organizations. This will allow me to shift more focus to my relationship with my gorgeous boyfriend in Hawaii, and perhaps branch out into some consulting roles for other events & ventures on the back burner. Stay tuned – you never know where I’ll end up!
JH: Oooh sounds promising! And finally anything you’d like to mention that we did not cover?
ARR: I am honored and extremely flattered you chose ME for your first Trailblazer Award. Thank you for listening to my story. I hope it inspires other readers across the world to get more involved in their communities.
JH: It is our honor and pleasure to acknowledge you and the important work you do with regards to inclusion in our community. Congratulations again and I’ll see you at the awards!
** All photos by Entendre Photography and Tristan Sutphin Photography**