North American Bear Weekend is one of the leading bear runs in the USA – a full weekend of parties, social events, excursions, and vending all taking place in February in Lexington Kentucky. A highlight of the weekend is the title run and this year saw a change up with the titles now offered as North American Bear, North American Mama Bear and North American Cub.
I had the pleasure of chatting to this year’s Mr North American Bear, Kevin Barni.
Richard Jones: Hi Kevin. thanks for sitting down with us, it must have been a crazy few weeks since you won the Title of Mr, North American Bear, especially since it’s not that long since you won Mr. Delaware Bear 2019 too.
Kevin Barni: Hey! It has been a whirlwind 2019, and things are only going to get more hectic as the year progresses. I can’t wait.
RJ: What do you think will be the trick in representing two titles concurrently?
KB: If I can be honest, and I feel like I can be, there really isn’t one. I didn’t think that competing so soon after winning one title was anomalous. However, since this is the question I am asked the most, after the ever charming and ever popular “Looking? Into? Hung?” triple threat, it must be.
I look at it like this, I am always going to be from Delaware, its just part of who I am and I can never divorce myself from that fact. I see winning at NAB as just scaling up my platform, and raising the profile and interest in my original title and community back home.
I have been working on finding a way to wear both sashes at once in an effort to physically represent both titles, so if anyone has any suggestions, or just wants to see me get myself tangled up, I’m all ears.
RJ: What surprised you about the competition?
KB: It felt low pressure, and all my competitors were super friendly. It was a busy weekend that feels like a blur now, but that might be for the best.
This is also the part that I tell you I am surprised that I won, so, I am surprised that I won. I remember waiting to go back on stage to have the winners announced and just KNOWING that I didn’t win. By that point, I had shown everything I had, felt drained, and was sure that there was nothing on that stage for me. If you’ve seen any of the pictures of me that is 100% genuine shock. I have never been happier to be wrong.
On a more personal note, I didn’t realize how many emotions doing a fantasy skit would bring up for me. It was something that felt so far beyond my wheelhouse that I was convinced it was going to be a disaster. It also made me confront the fact that I don’t associate the word sexy, or any of its sister-words with myself. It was a weekend of fun and some self-discovery.
RJ: What made you enter the competition?
KB: I competed to show everyone what Delaware’s bear community had to offer. It was much more about representing my state and community than it was about self-promotion. I think I was successful in doing that.
I also competed because really enjoy competing. I made all my costumes including the leather gear that I wore and was excited that I got to be creative and then got to force people to look at the things I had made.
Finally, just like the last time we spoke, I entered to amplify my voice and to be a voice for people who feel voiceless.
RJ: How do you think it will change your life?
KB: As someone who has spent a lifetime simultaneously running from and begging for attention its forced me to really pick a struggle. When they announced me as the winner my initial reaction was “oh man, what did I do?” I am still asking myself that.
It gives me a chance to be a person others can look to if they need help or feel lost. I don’t have any answers, but I am happy to listen.
Finally, this win broke any remaining bit of shell I had to come out of. It has given me further proof that my brand of thinking, my passions, and my voice are valid. Speaking up and being authentic are two of the most basic things we can do as a community to foster growth and acceptance.
RJ: What do you plan to do with your title year?
KB: I am going to and seeing as many people and communities as possible. My schedule is booking up with appearances, judging contests, pride events, and fundraisers. If you send me an invite via email, facebook message, letter, telegram, carrier pigeon or smoke signal I am happy to try to get myself there.
I am also happy to be working on a few fundraisers for local charities, and am planning a few small events. It is so soon after my win that I still feel like possibilities are endless. Maybe I’ll start a podcast, I have time for that, right?
RJ: What does the bear community mean to you?
KB: The further down this rabbit hole I get the more I realize that the bear community is this massive network of people and things that is surprisingly unique. It’s great to feel like there is a home or friends for you everywhere, and I would love to see that apply to the entire LGBTQ community someday.
RJ: What are your plans with your Title Family?
KB: I am bummed that we all live so far apart because I could sing their praises all day. I know this isn’t answering your question, but I think they are both such amazing people, and I think the three of us are a really great representation of where the community is and where the community is going.
I think the three of us are meeting up at CLAW this April, and of course World Bear. Lisa and Cutlar also know that they have an open invitation to come to stay at my house. Like I said earlier, there is still so much time to plan and do stuff.
Of course, I still have my wonderful Mr. Delaware Sash husband who stays over almost once a week who, along with my actual husband, has been key to keeping me sane. Both of them are with me at any event.
RJ: Tell us more about your platform?
KB: My platform remains consistent with what it was when we last spoke after my first win and will reuse the same elevator speech I gave you then. Toxic masculinity and unattainable standards are out, being your most authentic self is in. I want to build bridges and work towards a more inclusive community. Historically, the bear community has been a refuge for those who did not conform to the larger gay community’s idea of what is attractive, however in an effort to codify bear identifiers, we have seen a shift from inclusion to exclusion of those who aren’t seen as bear enough or masculine, enough. There is room for everyone at the table and I am ready to pull up the chairs and send out the invitations.
RJ: And where and when can we all see you and meet you next?
I have a very tentative schedule right now. I will definitely be at BBM, CLAW, and World Bear. June is pride month so you’ll see me in a few parades in Delaware, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. My schedule should be on facebook any day now. If I am not scheduled to be somewhere I’ll just be hanging out in Delaware or some Mid-Atlantic state. If you want a little piece of me, but don’t know if I will be in your area, I am selling run pins to help offset some travel costs.
If anyone wants to set something up they can email me at Delabear19@gmail.com AND if your readers enjoy photos of me and my cats they should check out my Instagram Delabear89 where they can DM me event requests or photos. I’m not picky.
Thanks to Chester and Dane of Entendre Photography – www.entendrephoto.com