Christchurch Bears: As Friendly As They Are Furry

Christchurch correspondent Little Miss Cinnamon talks to Christchurch Bears organiser Andrew Rusbatch about heading the pack.

What’s your favourite thing about being part of the ChCh Bear community?

My favourite part of the Christchurch bear community is Big Bear Weekend, which we host here every November. We have four days of events including drinks, dinner, bus trips, matinee movies, afternoon tea, car rallies, a big bear party, and the events are always fun and widely supported. We have people come from all over New Zealand as well as a few from Australia to join in the fun. It’s really great to see so many diverse people in terms of age and identity come together, make new friends and celebrate our community.

What do you think the wider LGBTQIA+ community could learn from the Bear community?

Inclusion would be a big thing. We might all be different flavours but that shouldn’t prevent us from having a lot of fun together as we widen our social connections within the community.

Bears host a Mr Bear Canterbury contest each year to put forward a contestant in Mr Gay NZ, and in the past, we have been represented by winners from within the puppy, trans, and cub communities. People often think you have to be big and hairy to be part of the bear community. You don’t. We embrace people from all walks of life.

What are your personal goals for the ChCh Bear community?

My personal goal is that Bears will always be a place where people feel welcomed and safe. I know for example with our drinks, for some, it may be the one night a month that they can go out and spend time with other members from within our community. It’s really important that we never lose those connections. And it means a great deal to me that in my own small way, I can help make that happen.

What’s one piece of advice you were given or learnt as a gay man that you would like to pass onto our younger generation?

Be authentic, and be friendly. As long as we can be both of those things, our community will flourish. I have been fortunate to be around inspiring people when I was new to all of this, and now I have a chance to pay it forward. We all have the chance to not only learn from those in our community who have gone before us, but each of you may also be a role model to those new members of our community who are looking for role models and leadership. Make sure your example is a good one. Even when you think nobody is watching. You may be inspiring someone to come out, to participate, or embrace their authenticity.

What words of encouragement do you have for someone contemplating getting involved in the Bear community?

The biggest question I get from newcomers is “Do I have to be a bear to be part of your group?” The simple answer is ‘no’. Come along to our events. Say hello. We are a friendly lot!

You can find us on Facebook (bears.christchurch) which is our primary  communication portal and those of you not on Facebook you can sign up to our newsletter on the About page on our website bearschristchurch.org.nz 

Article | Little Miss Cinnamon.
Photos | James Maxwell.