In the lead up to North American Bear Weekend 2024, we have been talking to the NAB 2023 title family about their reigning year and everything they have accomplished. We continue with Andy Curtiss, the current North American Bear.
BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Andy Curtiss (AC): I am Daddy Andy, the Leather Care Bear. My pronouns are he/him/his and I am proud to be from Cleveland, currently residing just 30 minutes east in Mentor. I am 40 years old and am the Senior Learning & Development Specialist for a large, local company. In my spare time I’m a Trevor Project Crisis Counselor and I’m VERY active in my local LGBTQIA+ community as an event planner, fundraiser, emcee, and host. I’m also a proud leatherman as well! And if that’s not busy enough, after a 23 year successful career in the private sector, I’ve gone back to school to get my Social Work degree so that I can continue to work FOR my community from a different angle. And saving the best for last, I have two amazing boyfriends who mean the world to me, Sam and River.
BWM: What drew you to the bear community? How did you find it?
AC: I was introduced to the bear community by a dear friend of mine who knew I’d been having a hard time. I spent most of my adult life over 400lbs and I hated what I saw in the mirror. I actively avoided looking at myself and didn’t put myself into situations where my body was revealed. But upon attending my first bar night for our local bear group, I discovered a group of men who found my body and look attractive. It was love at first woof! It was through the bear community that I learned to love myself and find the confidence that was hiding inside. Being a part of the bear community truly opened me up to more experiences, meeting new people, and the first step in changing my life for the better.
BWM: How would you define what a bear is?
AC: I love this question. Two years ago, I underwent weight loss surgery and lost over 200lbs. Since then, I’ve had additional surgeries to remove excess skin. I’m no longer shaped like what people think of as the stereotypical bear. Sure, I’m hairy… but I no longer have a belly. Because a “bear” is a state of mind and an attitude. Being a bear is being a part of a family who understands what your personal challenges are. It’s being protective of the ones you care about. Bears love hard, play hard, and eat well. We kick up our heels and have a good time when it’s time – and honey, it’s almost always time! But we also know how to love, support, encourage, and educate one another. Bear means family and acceptance regardless of anything else you may be.
BWM: Why was it important to you to compete for NAB Bear?
AC: I was R&J Leather Bear Pride 2022 and I spent that title year serving my community to the best of my ability, as I was taught by my R&J Leather family in Cleveland. I was lucky to have that same community embrace and encourage me. When the idea was presented for me to run for North American Bear, they pushed me to do so. Having your community behind you is the best feeling in the world – how could I say no? Plus it was an amazing capstone to my journey of going from a scared, zero confidence guy hiding in the shadowy corner of the bar to the sexy man out front, on stage they see today.
BWM: Tell us about your platform. How have you utilized your title over the last year?
AC: My platform I ran on was bringing attention to LGBTQIA+ youth suicide and the work of The Trevor Project. I talk about it every chance I get, fundraise for it, and educate people about their services. That was the task I consciencely set out to achieve. What I found was that my local community also had needs. They wanted bar nights, activities, and parties in safe spaces where they could explore and enjoy themselves. And I found myself in a position where I had the skills and influence to make that happen. So over the last year I’ve assisted in planning, producing, hosting, and emceeing everything from kinky gear nights (now monthly) and nerdy game nights (also monthly now), to exotic dancer nights and holiday dinners in my own home.
BWM: What are your proudest achievements as NAB Bear?
AC: Oh gosh – my achievement is my community. The love and appreciation I get is what makes me proudest. I got the nickname “Leather Care Bear” because of my desire to help mentor the younger folks in our community. And if I’ve been able to help any single one of them in any little way, then I’ll call that success and be proud of it.
BWM: What advice would you give to the incoming NAB Bear?
AC: The sash you’re about to put on imbues you with a superpower. Crazy, I know! But it does. It shines a spotlight on you and holds a megaphone up to your mouth. Here’s the catch though… you can choose to use it or not. Honey… USE IT. And if you’re not sure how or need help, reach out. You’re family now and we DO for family.
BWM: What are some important issues you feel that need to be addressed in the bear community?
AC: The bear community is amazing, and I love it!!! But we’re not always good at handling people who look or act different from ourselves. People of color… our trans family members… people who don’t “look bear enough”… even women. They can find themselves pushed out of the bear community, on the outskirts and unwelcomed. We can do better. Bears came together because of the shared trauma we experience either being bears or liking bears. How in the Hell are we going ostracize any demographic or group who wants to sit at the table with us?! It’s okay to have preferences in terms of who you wish play with or have a relationship with. But it’s NOT okay to gatekeep a community based on acceptance!
BWM: Will you be running for any additional titles?
AC: I take pride in representing Cleveland and participating in the International Mr. Leather competition in May 2024. My inspiration comes from the outstanding performance of Chris Gonzales, our World Cub 2019, and my best friend and leather brother and titleholder, Matt Fuerst, Mr. Cleveland Leather 2023. The connections and the journey of the IML contest fill me with excitement. I’m beyond grateful for the tremendous support and encouragement from my community. If you find yourself in Chicago in May, do stop by and cheer us on!
BWM: Anything else you’d like to mention?
AC: Please consider visiting give.thetrevorproject.org to learn more about what The Trevor Project does and how you can help. Last year 40% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide. Ask yourself: what can *I* do to make a difference?
Be sure to follow Andy Curtiss, North American Bear 2023 on Instagram and perhaps meet him in person at North American Bear Weekend 2024: Mean Bears taking place from February 15th -18th in Lexington, KY.