Zach Gillette, World Bear 2021, discusses finding the Bear community and welcoming all

World Bear Weekend happened this past August 19th – 22nd, and we now have more members to add to the World Bear family!

This year’s World Bear title was won by none other than Iowa’s Zach Gillette! We spoke to Zach recently about winning the title, plans for the title year, and his belief that everyone should be welcome in the Bear community. 

Kyle Jackson: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Zach Gillette: I am 37 going on 38 in December. I grew up in small town Iowa, where I was one of few gay men let alone out gay men. I poured myself into my job and family, trying to fit into a straight person’s world. 

I love to cook, cooking is feeding people’s souls. I currently live in Des Moines, IA with my Husbear (Kelly) and 3 bio dogs, Keegan, Charlie and Baxter.

KJ: How did you find the Bear community?

ZG: In 2015, my best friend invited me to go camping with him at a gay camping weekend — he said it was “Bear” weekend. I had no idea what to expect in going to a gay campground. My mind was racing with what all would happen. 

We pulled up and set up camp at LV Campground and gift shop in Coggon, IA. Upon checking in, I met John and Jerry the owners, they could tell I was new and made my stay so welcoming and felt like I was coming home. Bear weekend had started and I met the bear group and what a fun group of men it was. I learned what a Bear was and had finally felt accepted and at home with my body. There was a place where I was no longer the biggest guy or the hairiest guy in the room, I was just one of the guys. 

This moment changed my life. Later that year, I met my now husbear (Kelly) at that very camp. At the end of 2015, I started coming to Des Moines, where I met the Capital Bears and got involved with their group. The motto is “Bear is a state of mind”. I am now the Vice President of the Capital Bears and volunteer as much as I can with our group.  

KJ: What made you decide to enter the contest?

ZG: I had decided I wanted to run for World Bear in 2020 after chatting with the first World Bear Johnny Benjamin and Ms. World Bear Nikki Wireman. I got the chance to meet Johnny during my competition for North American Bear in 2019 and followed his journey. 

I had such a great time competing for North American Bear and during my Mr Iowa Bear title year in 2019, I decided I was not done yet and there is still more that I can do. I was originally going to compete in 2020, but then Covid happened and the world came to a stop, or so I had thought. So many titles holders held online events, workshops and were still a presence in the communities. 

KJ: What was the best part about participating in the contest?

ZG: There were several parts of the contest that I really enjoyed. First, was winning Mr. World Bear 2021! 

Meeting folks and telling my story was another one of the many highlights for me. Growing the relationship with my fellow contestants and now family giving advice and asking for their thoughts and input. 

I also love raising money for charities. This year’s charities — Rainbow Railroad and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital— are fantastic and do amazing things.

Lastly, getting to see old friends and get hugs from them all! 

KJ: What are your goals for your title year?

ZG: One of my goals this year is to show others they are not alone. The last year has been tough enough and some have spent enough time alone battling mental health. I hope to inspire others by sharing my story and my battles to show others they are not alone.

Another goal is to help raise money for charities, whether this is on my own or helping others. 

KJ: What are some important issues you think need to be addressed in the Bear and/or Leather communities?

ZG: That we all belong! Whether I weigh more than you, or I am not into the same kink as you are, or my gender is not the same as yours, we all still matter and we all still have feelings. 

We all are on this journey together and have enough roadblocks from “mainstream society” to face. Why would the LGBTQIA+ community spread more hate, or plant more doubt in someone’s mind that they don’t belong? 

All folks should be welcome — let’s lift each other up and stop tearing each other down because of our differences. If we were given one color crayon to color with for the rest of our lives, we would get really bored. We are all different crayons making up one box!

The dates for World Bear Weekend 2022 have been announced! Visit for more information and to plan your trip!

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.