February is upon us, and we are celebrating that frisky and flirty love holiday, but most importantly it is Black History Month. BHM is the time we recognize monumental moments in our culture. We all know that the Stonewall Riots of 1969 is recognized as the birth of the gay pride movement. From that foundation further marginalized voices began to make their voices heard and presence known. Particularly amongst black gays, we were still fighting for basic rights as citizens. By the 1990’s, our visibility was increasing, and we exploded into a cultural renaissance. Primarily fueled by the neglect we experienced during the height of the AIDS Crisis, a movement was born, and our individualism started peeking through, one bit of representation at a time.
As such, it is important to take a look at a few of the organizations and events that have provided Black Bears and plus size men of color specifically with representation in the bear subculture and leather worlds. As the need for visibility and safe spaces came about in our community these gatherings were created to celebrate the beautiful black and brown bears out there. Brave bears of color created their own lane within the larger bear and leather communities to make room for our rich individual presence. History must be shared to learn about how we got to where we are and where we should go. No one is aware that they are creating history until it happens. It is not just about having a good time, it is about creating impact, cultural influence, and a template for the future.
For men of color who aren’t necessarily placed within the social norms of beauty, desirability, or acceptability, trailblazers decided to kick the door in and do it themselves. If we don’t revisit our history and honor it, we are doomed to repeat it. That is why it is important that these stories be told. Bears, Big Boys and their admirers have always been around, but haven’t been seen in ways they deserve. For the LGBT community, our stories are not important enough to share with the rest of the world and if we do not continue to share them, it will be as if these things never existed.
For the last two decades, plus size men of color have been breaking stereotypes and traditions one organization at a time. One of the pillars of the movement, Tha Big Dogs, was created in 2003 by Clint Lanvin, in the time before social media was a thing. They are based in Atlanta, GA and have monthly events and an annual weekend celebration every Labor Day. Their example and presence have been instrumental in leading the pack for the last two decades.
Soon after, The Big Brothas Network was created by Tony Brown, to also celebrate the larger men of color in the LGBT community and those who admire them. One of their main goals is to promote positive self-images within the community and to translate that to the mainstream to show that the standard of beauty is not determined by cookie cutter standards.
Out of that, BBN created Big Boy Pride. Created in 2011, it was launched during Spring Fling in Florida. Now, it is an annual event celebrating same-gender-loving larger men and those who support them. Although the organizations were showing up, there was no specific gathering to celebrate it all! So, the realization of the need for a Pride weekend specifically focusing on the big boys was born. Over the last decade, BBP has grown from one large party to a four-day event. While promoting empowerment by way of brotherhood and bonding, the weekend also includes pool parties, group discussions and seminars. It is the most widely attended event during the year for bears and big boys.
Lastly, The Black Bear Brotherhood was founded in 2016, by L. Michael Gipson in Detroit, MI. Originally it was a monthly potluck. However, it was decided to make it an official group as more people began attending and finding a safe space among the brothers involved. In conjunction with Counter Narrative Project (CNP) out of Atlanta, such community undertakings as political panels, Mental Health Workshops, Fitness Events, and other activities fostering camaraderie were created to further focus on the totality of the man. BBB has established chapters in other cities including Washington D.C and Cincinnati.
As we keep moving forward and making strides towards inclusion for all sectors of the community, there is a constant reminder that we must revisit our history to keep foraging for the future. Big Boy Culture and Black Bear Culture is woven into the fabric of our community and with each new event and project that is created, we will continue to cultivate togetherness, celebrate pride, challenge stereotypes, change culture and uplift the collective Big Boy community while making history in the process.