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2018’s Bears You Should Know: Who Made the Inspiring List?

Sometimes the bear community gets so wrapped up in its own issues that we forget just how wonderful this group really is.  Last year, Manhattan Digest featured several different men who have done some inspirational and heartfelt things in and out of the bear community, and this year is no different.

The 2018 list for Bears You Should Know spans the globe from New York City to all the way down under in Australia.  These are men who are going above and beyond the call in many facets of life including some of the amazing charity work that they do which helps thousands upon thousands of other people in the process.  Outside of that, they are all superbly kind, generous and sweet men that you should definitely get to know in 2018 and beyond.

Here is the outstanding list of the men who made 2018’s Bears You Should Know.  Take a look.

Leland Coffey: Cleveland, Ohio

He’s a former military man, father of two, and all around good guy who may have an intimidating look to him but that could not be further from the case.  The current Cleveland resident, who used to reside in South Carolina, has developed a major following on social media as he has become one of the biggest bear models in the world. Leland has also been able to pose for legendary photographers like Mack Sturgis and Michael Alago and has also become one of the go to go-go dancers in New York City and beyond.  He also happens to be one of the nicest people you will ever meet, as he has a compassion and kindness about him that everyone in the world should have. 

Michael Wright- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michael, who is originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina but now calls Philadelphia home, has also become a major force in the bear modeling world as his social media pages rank in the thousands with the variety of photos he takes that features a ton of apparel from gay-owned businesses. On top of that, Michael is a business owner in himself, as he runs an adult day care center, something that his own mother started to do almost thirty years ago.  He is also developing his own line of T-shirts called Beardedikon as well as a nutrition program which is in the works.  Consider him a bear “Jack of all trades” kind of dude.

Keoki Smith: Sydney, Australia

Try not to drool here when it comes to how incredibly handsome Keoki is.  The Atlanta native, who currently resides in Sydney, Australia, has an incredibly charitable heart both in and out of the bear community.  He has worked in the past with programs that deliver meals to those in the community who can’t afford proper nutrition or are too sick to prepare their own meals.  It’s something he says is his favorite to do as you get to meet people from all walks of life who have such incredible stories to share.  He’s also taken part in several AIDS walks in Atlanta and has helped children in need during the holiday season.  All of this just makes you want to give him a big bear hug for what he does in terms of giving back.

Steve Rees: Manchester, United Kingdom

Steve is a fellow writer and journalist who runs a gay bears publication with Grahame Robertson called Bears United Magazine, which is a digital magazine aimed at the bear, cub and admirer community in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It’s a publication that is written and designed entirely by volunteers, as they aim to offer a unique, fresh and funny approach on being a bear, cub or admirer.  Outside of the wonderful world of journalism that Steve inhabits, he also works with a group called Manbears-Manchester that organizes to big events across the pond including The Great British bear Bash in May and Pre-Hibeearnation coming up in November.  Consider him an all-encompassing bear when it comes to highlighting the positives in what our community can really be.

Travis Smith & Chris Bale: Palm Springs, California

Modern Bear creators Travis Smith and Chris Bale have already had a busy year. It started in February with their hugely successful annual PopulArt Party held during IBC. Thinking outside the "bear box," the duo curated an art exhibit of local Palm Springs artists, threw in a DJ and Go-Go Bears, and suddenly, it wasn't your average art show!  They just filmed a comedic appearance in an episode of "Where The Bears Are," and are working with Bear World TV to create new programming, something they are very excited about. Travis elaborates; "Chris and I have written several pilot scripts for different concepts, and it feels good that BWT is excited as we are in producing one of them. It would be so awesome to get a bear-related show a production deal!"

But they are most proud to be "Guardian Angel" sponsors of Sanctuary, which provides a physical and emotional environment of health, education and kindness for LGBT teens in Foster Care in the Palm Springs area. Sanctuary enables LGBT teens who have been disowned by their families, a temporary home where they can re-group and have a safe place to live while they re-build their lives. "When we heard about Sanctuary, we immediately wanted to help, so we threw a Modern Bear Tea Dance and donated all the proceeds. The dance was such a hit, we will continue to do more of them throughout the year, to continue raising funding for Sanctuary," explains Chris.

Both Travis and Chris live busy lives in the gay Mecca Palm Springs, Chris as a Realtor specializing in Mid Century Modern properties popular in the area, and Travis is an interior designer for H3K Design, which specializes in restoring Mid Century period homes. Hmmm, sounds like a great TV show!

Mike Flanagan: Brooklyn, New York

Mike is a multi-award-winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He has released two albums under his artist-name MRF; Elevator Music and the chart-topping Mob Music. Most recently, he won the Lennon Award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in the Hip-Hop category for “Mob Music". Mike took home Humanitarian Songwriter of the Year Award in the 9th annual OUTmusic Awards, where he held 5 nominations (the highest for that year) and won for his ode to LGBT Youth, “Be Strong”. The Billboard-charting artist currently live in Brooklyn, NY and works with frequent collaborator Lisa Bello, preparing for the release of her new album Tommy Boy, out May 11th.  Mike performs a weekly residency at ReBar Chelsea on Sundays from 4-7PM and teaches songwriting part time at NYU. He will also be performing at the 2018 Urban Bear Street Fair on May 20th.  Be on the lookout for him as his musically-inclined star power continues to rise.

Peter Pablo Meunier: West Roxbury, Massachusetts

Peter is undergoing quite the mission right now, as he is training for a Tough Ruck marathon which is hosted by the Boston Marathon Association.  It’s something that supports military families, first responders and veterans along with anyone who lost their life in battle.  It’s something that he decided to join as a civilian as his roommate, who happens to be his best friend, has served and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s something that he did not only to support him, but also to support the LGBTQ community that is representing our country right now.  With all the controversy surrounding the transgender community and the military, it’s something that he is more than proud to step up to and show that we are all human and we are capable of doing anything regardless of your background.  This self-proclaimed “chubby gay man” will “ruck” 26.2 miles to support his military but most importantly his fellow LGBTQ family.  He claims that when he’s done, he’ll tweet his photo and medal to Donald Trump.  “Not everything is a choice, but for to support my beliefs was,” he said.

Greg Kerr: Portland, Oregon

Greg, 53, is a lifelong west coast Bear, as he was born and raised in Los Angeles, then moved to the Bay Area in 2009, and has called Portland his home for almost a decade now.  The work that he does professionally is truly inspirational, as he is part of a non-profit company whose mission is to help college students succeed.  Inside the bear community, Greg has found himself as an inspiration to other men who tell him he doesn’t fit a “particular mold” when it comes to finding yourself in this world.  “I really do give less f**ks about conforming and style and such, and hope that others uncomplicate their emotional attachments as a community and refocus that emotion towards each other, as individuals,” he exclaimed.  It’s that sort of mentality that has allowed several men to reach out to him either on social media and in real life, who seek him out for advice, wisdom, and guidance, which is something he feels honored to do.  “At the end of the day, I want guys to feel happy and accepting toward each other - regardless of race, gender identity, age, etc.  My message is to balance your time on social media, especially the apps, with face to face time because really, that's what it's important.  Be there of one another because we live in a scary world now.”

Stanley Hughes: New York, New York

Stanley has been helping the bear community by promoting large scale events like Beefcake, which is ultimately designed for bears, chubs, muscle bears, cubs and basically anyone that wants to have fun.  One that he also helps put together is the upcoming 6th Annual Beefcake Pride Cruise, which happens to be the biggest bear event during gay pride in New York City each year.  Outside of that, he is also a known photographer who loves to take photos of bears and promoting that you can be sexy no matter what your size is.  Within that, he loves taking photos of big men of colors who have had a hard time finding a place, bar or club to fit in.  It’s something that he enjoys doing as it promotes an environment where all types of men can feel comfortable, have fun, and be desired all at the same time.

Pearse Egan: Dublin, Ireland

This half-Irish, half-Brazilian dude has developed quite a big resume for himself that spans the career choices of both sports and acting.  For one, he is a huge force in the field of rugby, so much so that he was featured in the 2015 documentary called Scrum, which is about the journey of three players on the Sydney Convicts team as they prepare physically and mentally for the 2014 Bingham Cup.  He’s also a budding actor, where outside of Scrum he was recently featured in the 2017 short Calling Home. It’s a career that he’s always loved, as he’s expressed himself as a natural storyteller but also enjoys immersing himself in another character which makes the experience so much more enticing for him.

What’s truly wonderful beyond that about Pearse is that he has taken his experience of being bullied as a kid and has fueled that into promoting self-love and compassion towards others, which is incredibly vital in our community today.

Dean Malka: Toronto, Canada

Dean is an owner of the wildly successful clothing company called Swish Embassy, which has a motto of “Wear a conversation piece.” A local to Toronto, Dean wanted to create a brand for gay men of all ages, shapes and sizes that would break through the app-focused social skills of today.  Swish Embassy is meant to deliver fun, social clothes that are especially relevant or topical in the gay community. It’s something that he did in part to create conversation pieces between gay men when they are out and about as it cuts the pressure of speaking to a stranger and telling that person “OMG! I love your shirt!”  At the same time, the aura is fun and approachable, and you can get away with wearing most of the designs as much at a gay bar as at a suburban big box store.  It’s something that gives Dean a big thrill, as he grins ear to ear whenever he sees a guy getting approached at a bar with someone commenting on his Swish Embassy shirt.

Matthew Principe: Astoria, New York

After years of performing onstage and subsequently working for classical music arts organizations like The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera, Matthew has also worked on independent projects focusing on several aspects of queer expression or sexuality.  He produced the GLAAD Media Award-winning stage play, Candy and Dorothy, as well as the award-winning short films Monsura is Waiting, Stag, ribbons, and Epiphany V.  As a member of the Diversity Committee in the Producers Guild of America East, he continues the conversation on LGBT inclusiveness in hiring practices as well as representation (and further, depiction) of LGBT subjects in media and content creation. Matthew is also a tireless advocate for queer voices in every instance of arts and culture, knowing freedom of expression is paramount to progress.

Tony Lima: Miami Shores, Florida

Tony, 44, is the Executive Director of SAVE, Florida’s longest serving organization dedicated to protecting people who are LGBTQ against discrimination.  Under his leadership, SAVE has had the biggest wins towards LGBTQ equality in the organizations’ 25-year history. In 2015, SAVE successfully sued the state of Florida to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2014, SAVE passed comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender individuals at the Miami-Dade County Commission and the organization has also helped elect a record number of its endorsed candidates to win their elections.  Outside of his wonderful work, Tony is a lover of theater and dance who is happily partnered and loves spending time with his family, in particular his four nephews and niece.