The bear community is filled with so many talented and passionate people who are working to make their part of the world a better place and this is certainly the case with Australia’s own Thomas van den Berg, Mr. Harbour City Bear 2023.
Born hard of hearing, Thomas is determined to bring inclusivity to the Sydney bear scene for deaf, hard of hearing, blind and wheelchair bound folks in the community. Check out our discussion with him below.
BWM: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Thomas van den Berg (TVDB): My name is Thomas van den Berg, born in The Netherlands, currently living in Sydney, Australia and I’m born Hard of Hearing; coming from a family where my grandmother and great grandmother were both Deaf.
BWM: What drew you to the bear community?
TVDB: I always admired bears and felt comfortable being around them.
BWM: What made you want to compete for the title?
TVDB: I wanted to use this platform to increase awareness and accessibility for our community members who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind or wheelchair bound.
BWM: How was your experience competing? What was the process like?
TVDB: It was a wonderful experience being one of the contestants. People asked me if I was nervous going into the competition and being on stage. I was not at all nervous but very excited to be representing our Deaf and Hard of Hearing community members. On the night of the competition there were three rounds, and my favourite part was when I came on stage in round three and being greeted by everyone in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The voting was nerve-wrecking for me, and the outcome a relief!
BWM: What are the responsibilities associated with your title?
TVDB: As a Heard of Hearing person, I know from personal experiences how difficult it can be to develop a social network. It is important for me to provide support, resources, and interpersonal connection to our Deaf community and raise awareness of the unique challenges and experiences present within the community as a whole.
I recently put together a sold-out event called “Auslan for Bears” where I taught 15 bear community members an introduction class in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) for 4 weeks. I’m also interpreting for our weekly Furry Fridays during our raffles.
BWM: Where will you be appearing as Mr. Harbour City Bear?
TVDB: I’m attending many community-based events and diverse pride festivals with the biggest one being the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which starts on February 18th 2024 and ends on March 2nd. I will be marching with over 200 floats from every corner of our community down our famous Oxford Street with over 12.000 other marchers as we bring to life the 2024 festival theme of “Our Future”….
I will be a representative of the Bear Community in Sydney during the Mr BearAsia competition and will be supporting Deaf, Deaf/blind and Hard of Hearing communities who support our LGBTIQ members (like Deaf Rainbow NSW).
Our Future is Deaf Proud!!!
BWM: What are some important issues you feel that need to be addressed in the bear community?
TVDB: We need to take inclusiveness and diversity more seriously, especially Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind or wheelchair bound people. I’m very proud that Harbour City Bears have organized interpreters during their events, and I will continue to work with them to organize community events which will include everyone who identifies as a bear.
And for those attending the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year be sure to check out the Bear Essentials Guide curated by the Harbour City Bears! WOOF!