Meet Shannon Ashley, North American Mama Bear 2023

As the community prepares for North American Bear Weekend 2024, taking place from February 15th through 18th in Lexington, Kentucky, we wanted to take the opportunity to talk to the outgoing 2023 North American Bear (NAB) titleholder family and discuss their achievements throughout the past year.

We start with North American Mama Bear Shannon Ashley.  

BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Shannon Ashley (SA): I have lived in Lexington, Ky for more than twenty years. I use They/Them, She/Her pronouns.  I’m originally from a small town about seventy-five miles south of Lexington. I was married for twenty-four years but did not come out until I was forty-six.

BWM: What drew you to the bear community and how has your experience been within it?

SA: When I finally found the courage to come out, I had two friends that made that possible. I wouldn’t be here today without them. One of those friends introduced me to the Kentucky Bourbon Bears. I went to my first NAB in 2017 and I knew I found my people. It was a lot to take in at first, but Adam Rodriquez-Routt, his husband Victor and the bears made me feel welcome. It was the first time I ever felt part of a community that I could be myself with.

BWM: Can you tell us about your history of competing and why you wanted to become the NAB Mama Bear?

SA: The first title that I ran for and won was the title of Kentucky Bourbon Mama Bear in 2020. That title and the NAB Mama Bear title are open to anyone that identifies as a Mama Bear. Saying that, I feel that visibility in our community is very important. So many times, we have lost that connection to our blood family. As the first non-binary, trans feminine person to run for and win the title, I hope there are more Mama’s that want to join our community and become involved.  I wanted to use it to help others feel seen, welcome and included and to find that family like I did. 

BWM: Tell us about your platform.

SA: My platform this year is one that I have always had. It’s what guides me in everything I do…Inclusion. So many times, people are made to feel unwanted, unwelcomed and not part of our community. I feel that this is one of the biggest problems in our community.  Maybe they don’t fit into that typical cis-white male box, or they are a plus size person, or trans or in some way gender-nonconforming. Go talk to that person who looks lonely and scared. Try using proper pronoun usage when someone tells you what their pronouns are. Whatever the reason, our Bear family should be welcoming to anyone who feels drawn to it.

BWM: How have you utilized your title over the last year?

SA: I have traveled well over 4,000 miles across the country representing, along with my entire NAB 2023 title family, North American Bear Weekend and the title of Mama Bear. Most of it was with my title brother, North American Pet 2023 Pup Rookie. I was the first NAB Mama Bear to go to “Bears, Bikers and Mayhem” in Pennsylvania as well as being the first current to attend IML in Chicago. I was asked why do you want to go to such male centered events? Aren’t you afraid you won’t be welcome?  It all comes down to two things, visibility and inclusion.  As it turns out in both cases, I was welcomed and it gave me some of the best memories of this title year.

BWM: What are your proudest achievements as NAB Mama Bear?

SA: Besides being visible in our community, one of the things I have done is to fundraise and give back.  Along with others we were able to raise over $5000 for charities, some of them being: Camp Beacon, the first summer camp for LGBTQ youth in Kentucky; Haunters Against Hate; and the Kentucky Health Justice Network Trans Health Advocacy program.

BWM: What would you say to the mama bears preparing to compete this year?

SA: For anyone thinking about competing for the NAB Mama Bear title or any title, know that it is a lot of work. I say do it if you want to help your community and give back. It can be very rewarding, and you will get back what you put into it.

Be sure to follow Shannon Ashley, North American Mama Bear 2023 on Facebook and  Instagram.

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.