Over the years of being in the bear community I have met men that have left me speechless with just how wonderful they are.
A big reason why I do the annual feature called Bears You Should Know is to bring attention to some who may not be in the spotlight the way others are.
There’s something special and unique about each of them that make them worthy of this coveted list. And no we aren’t just talking about them being good looking that easily gives them the go-ahead to be part of this.
That has nothing to do with how this is made although it doesn’t hurt as every guy that has been part of it is the definition of the word handsome.
This year’s list is beyond inspiring as we have included a couple of men who have been at the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic. They have worked tirelessly in order to save thousands of lives which in turns has made them heroes in the eyes of many.
You’ll also meet guys who have been affected by COVID in terms of what they do professionally. They may be down due to things outside of their control but they surely aren’t out when it comes to their talent and the drive to getting back in the game at some point.
These dudes are amazing, awe-inspiring, etc, etc. So without further ado please take a look at the men who make up the 2020 class of Bears You Should Know, who each revealed what their proudest moment of being openly gay is.
Jack Chang: Frankfurt, Germany
Chances are you’ve been to a party that Jack Chang has DJ’d at. Over the past twenty years he’s become one of the most in-demand DJ’s worldwide beginning way back in the early 2000’s when he took over Folsom Europe. During COVID he’s been spending as much time in the studio as much as possible where he produces new material for him and his fellow. He also makes people laugh by posting daily humorous images of himself taking over an imaginary job (like a movie or TV role) in an effort to foster positive social media interaction, and of course, to help brighten everyone’s day a little. You can find them all on Instagram under #JacksCoronaJobs hashtag.
Proudest Moment: “One of my proudest moments was in 2009. Time Out Tel-Aviv reviewed when a special event I headlined called Dark Empire at the legendary Haoman 17 Club in Tel-Aviv. It was called “the most important cultural event of the year”. It was Israel’s first ever fetish dance event. I also run a group on Facebook called aLFA, the Asian Leather and Fetish Association, a pan-sexual pan-preference group for those of Asian descent, and those living in Asia to connect and get to know each other.”
Chris Grace: Los Angeles, California
Have I seen that dude before? Chris Grace is an established actor with IMDb credits that include him appearing on monster shows like Superstore (NBC), PEN15 (Hulu), All the Bright Places (Netflix), and more. During the COVID lockdown he created several comedic barbershop-style songs such as “Don’t Be a Racist” and “Stay the F**k Home”; several of these were selected for Austin’s virtual Fusebox Festival this past summer. Recently he launched videos featuring his character Doctor Tung, President Trump’s Top Scientist. Last summer he directed the show Thrones! The Musical which he also co-wrote, headlining a monthlong stay at the Sydney Opera House.
Proudest Moment: “My proudest moment of being an openly gay man (besides my wedding day) was winning the Bingham Cup in 2010. It was the culmination of six years of hard work, sacrifice, and growth with a true band of brothers. The moment the final whistle was blown and we were the champions, we formed a bond that we’ll carry the rest of our lives.”
Brandon King-Williams: Indianapolis, Indiana
Brandon King-Williams’ past work is beyond admirable in the field of drug and alcohol counseling where he’s volunteered at a sober living home and helped tenants build their resumes, hone in on their interviewing skills and become their accountability buddy. Currently he tackles the world of Property Management where he runs a 400+ unit multi-site property that helps low income families find housing. But wait… there’s more! He also directly helped people who lost their jobs during the pandemic find rental assistance so they wouldn’t end up homeless. WHAT A CATCH!
Proudest Moment: “I would say my proudest moment is basically just being my true authentic self and living out loud. I always like to look on the bright side of things and I’ve always been known to liven up a room. I have heard many times that my confidence and my unapologetic attitude has made me somewhat of a “mentor” to those who are still finding themselves or are newly out. It makes me proud that people feel comfortable enough to ask me for advice and that I can be that safe space for them to always be themselves.”
Michael J. Kennedy: Royal Oak. Michigan
Our heart rates are pumping, y’all. Michael J. Kennedy is an infectious disease physician that was thrust to the forefront of the frontlines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you live in the Royal Oak area and know who he is please give him a big hug for us. Besides practicing general infectious disease in the inpatient and outpatient setting for a private practice, Newland Medical Associates, he also has a special interest in HIV medicine and prescribing PrEP for HIV prevention. Oh and if you’re into Sci-Fi, comics and video games, he’s your man. Plus he’s second tenor in the PRISM Gay Men & Allies’ Chorus of Metro Detroit. Basically he can sing and save your life fellas.
Proudest Moment: “I don’t have any specific proud moments that come to mind about being an openly gay male. I came out later in my adulthood as I was extremely introverted/socially awkward until I met my partner of 15 years in 1999 during Mardi Gras in NOLA who was extremely extroverted and helped bring me out of my shell over our years together. Sadly, he passed away unexpectedly in January 2014. As I became more comfortable in my skin, I became more comfortable being out at work and in my personal life.
Alex Aguilar: Charlotte, North Carolina
This “self-proclaimed big kid” Alex Aguilar has excelled in many industries in his professional career that revolves around his love of the arts in sciences. He’s worked in the fields of medicine while showing off his craft for acting by performing on many different stages. Recently he accepted a position as a social media manager for a theatre company which he was touring with until the pandemic hit. The paradigm shift of 2020 led him to start his Twitch channel: PnutPi, which provides a safe, queer space where people can escape and have a good time. Now, he has formed a community of friends (old and new) online and encourages anyone to join.
Compassion and empathy are strong tools he also uses every day – whether marching for Black Lives Matter, Pride or by volunteering.
Proudest Moment: “Playing Rugby and volunteering for the Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Club is one of my proudest moments as a gay man. Bringing back a trophy during the Bingham Cup Manchester 2012 where I learned that I could tackle anything as a gay, Latinx male, that stereotypes are meant to be shattered, and to never stop being your authentic self.”
Frank Morano: Bound Brook, NJ
Need a lawyer? He’s your guy! Frank Morano is Counsel at Argentino Fiore Law & Advocacy, LLC in Montclair, NJ. His areas of practice includes family law, criminal defense, sex worker representation, domestic violence representation, anti-bullying and special education advocacy, name and gender marker changes, and civil rights issues. Frank is a staunch fighter for LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy, serving several different legal and community outreach groups across the state. He’s Secretary and Trustee to the New Jersey State Bar Association LGBT Rights Section, a member of the Somerset County LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, and a member of the LGBT Outreach Panel at the State Theatre of New Jersey. Frank is admitted to practice law in New Jersey, New York, the District Court of New Jersey, and the United States Supreme Court.
Proudest Moment: “I came out much later in life- 36 years old, married to a woman, two kids. The night I came out, my now ex-wife hugged me, cried, and said ‘Do something with this.’ We were about to go through a lot, and neither of us wanted the heartache that was about to follow to be in vain. I changed my area of law, sought out ways I could help the community with my talents as an attorney and litigator, and now I work tirelessly to defend LGBTQ+ rights. Which brings me to World Pride 2019 – I find myself marching past the Stonewall Inn with my fiancé, Rob, my daughter Annie (10 years old at the time), and my son Frankie (12 at the time). All of them smiling, supporting, and being proud to be there. Less than four years after that night in September 2015 when I came out, I was marching in the Pride parade, surrounded by my family and by love. That was the best moment as an out gay man.”
Ryan Tappin: Boston, Massachusetts
Ryan Tappin, just like Michael, is another hero on the frontlines of COVID. He’s a nurse practitioner currently working with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Internal Medicine in the Boston area. He has, for the greater part of 2020, triaging and caring for patients infected with Coronavirus in his local community. Back in April and May of this year he was transferred to the emergency field hospital, Boston Hope Medical Center, set up at the Boston Expo and Convention Center when the hospitals were overflowing with cases. While there, he was a hospitalist NP caring for patients suffering with COVID-19 and helping them during their long road to recovery. Before COVID he had taken a break from full time primary care and worked in research at Fenway Health working on clinical trials for new drugs for PrEP, including the now approved Descovy and soon to be approved long-acting injectable, cabotegravir, as well as several promising HIV vaccines.
Proudest Moment: “My proudest moment is being able to be a resource for others around health, sexuality, and HIV/STI prevention. I put up my professional expertise on my profiles and encourage anyone to reach out and ask questions. Especially during this challenging time, it’s hard to navigate our health system, and sadly, too many in our community lack safe, competent healthcare resources to address basic needs.”
Ryan Scanlan: New York, NY
Ryan Scanlan began his career working as a physician’s assistant in HIV primary care in Brooklyn where he served mostly young gay men and women of color. Since then he’s been in the same role in a Manhattan emergency department. Then COVID hit in March. Here’s his take on how things went:
“No one knew anything with 100% certainty about Covid-19 and we were getting zero definitive information from the government and news outlets,” he said. “I began drafting weekly PSAs based on my experience with it. In them, I discussed the wide array of symptoms, the tests (or lack thereof) available, when to go to the hospital versus when to stay home, what constitutes shortness of breath, etc. I made it a point to address the LGBT community in these posts, discussing how to have sex in the pandemic.”
“I underscored the importance of social distancing, of course, but acknowledged the importance of sex, kinship and intimacy to our community,” he continued. “As such, I recommended that, if one wants/needs to have sex in the age of Covid, one should look to how our elders navigated sex during the plague years of HIV/AIDS and Serosorting: find a FB or FWB whom you trust and make a contract to only have sex with each other. I’m not sure if it was because of my thoughts on sex during Covid or because people were starving for information, but my PSAscirculated across the country. I had friends with whom I hadn’t spoken to in years reach out and say that their social circles were passing the PSAs around and discussing them.”
Proudest Moment: “My proudest moment took place in the Summer of 2017. The organizers of D.C. Pride opted against the traditional parade in favor of a march on Washington due to the political climate heralded by Trump’s inauguration. I rented a 15-passenger van, crammed it full of gay men, booked an AirBnB and drove down to D.C. to join the march. It felt incredibly empowering to be able to stand beside friends and lovers – my chosen family – and march through Washington D.C. in defiance of the conservative ethos spreading across our country.”
Seth Semons: Silver Spring, Maryland
Seth Semon’s career took a big shift when he went from being a registered nurse to an emergency room nurse at the beginning of COVID. He spends his days mostly in the COVID unit where he and his team do testing for people who are showing symptoms that could be related to it and decide whether they are sick enough that they need to be admitted to the hospital or do everything from home. He is assigned to work with psychiatric patients as well because, as one member of his management team puts it, he’s “very large and very calm.” Outside of his time at work he’s perfected the art of making chocolate chip cookies while enjoying a ride every now and then on his motorcycle bike. Zoom, zoom.
Proudest Moment: “I don’t know that there is one particular moment that I’ve been proud of during all of this, but it has definitely made me feel good educating my coworkers on ways to work with LGBT patients, in particular the transgender and nonbinary patients (if that’s the best way to say that) who come through the ER, even if it’s only explaining the importance of using the proper pronouns, and trying to find ways to make that information prominent enough in the documentation about the patients that the caregivers are sure to notice it.”
Jonny Mack: Orange, New Jersey
Jonny Mack, just like our fellow BYSN Jack, is an internationally known DJ who has spun at events and places all across the country. He’s also done a bunch of fab acting roles including his performance in Bear City and was an in-demand go-go dancer in and out of NYC before that. Luckily COVID has been somewhat good to him thanks to his job in the world of graphic design. Jonny’s creative director at his company where he’s in charge of its brand identity, website, publications and events. He also has a beautiful partner in his photographer husband JJ where they’ve spent part of COVID cooking up a storm making things like cinnamon rolls and pizza crust. Yum!
Proudest Moment: “Proudest moment? I would call it my happiest moment. The day I finally married my husband. June 22, 2013. I have never been as happy as I was that day. All the planning that went into it. I don’t know why, but I don’t think I took weddings very seriously most of my life. It was something I assumed was denied to me. So why should I care? I told my mother once that they were no longer necessary. They are supposed to be creating a household. Everybody gets together and gives the new couple everything they need in their new lives. These days nobody marries before living a life. So you’re giving them a blender, when they both already have blenders. What’s the point? And nobody gives a s**t about us. Nobody is setting me up with a new home and a set of gorgeous china when I move in with my boyfriend. But all that was changing. When Obama won his second term I proposed to JJ and he cried on my shoulder. We planned a wedding (within our budget) as close to our original anniversary as possible. That Saturday we gathered with 90 friends on the rooftop of Boxers HK. And we did our version of a big wedding. And from the moment I saw our friend Antoinette in a tomato floor length gown, I got ridiculously excited. People dressed up! And people cried. I cried. I wrote my vows to make JJ cry and I couldn’t read them myself. Someone in the group said, “You can do it…” and my heart soared. I felt like a balloon that was so filled with joy that I was bouncing along the ceiling for the rest of the day unable to be any happier and stay grounded at all. Next proudest, when JJ received his green card, and later his citizenship. And a couple days ago we voted together. It’s what it’s all about.”
Danny Kaylor-Hawkins: Washington D.C.
Need a guy to help you lose that COVID weight you put on over the past couple of months? Meet Danny Kaylor-Hawkins, a personal trainer in D.C. who was our first Instinct Hottie when it was reintroduced earlier this year. He takes his job seriously as what he tries to do with his clients goes beyond the physical as he hopes it helps them with their overall mental health as well.
Proudest Moment: “The most gratifying thing about being a gay male that I hold dear and I am proud of is being able to show affection to another male without it being about sex or being bullied with toxic masculinity. It’s something I really didn’t have before coming out and even after coming out, I had to still find who I was as a gay man to allow myself to give it, but more so to receive it.”
Matt Belvedere: Harlem, New York
Expect the unexpected from Matt Belvedere in the years to come. The Long Island native has been impressive his large social media with his cooking skills that lean towards the Chinese and Thai side of things. He’s also been an excellent food writer by reviewing some of the top spots in New York City over the past couple of years. Could this result in a cookbook or digital series at some point? Stay tuned!
Proudest Moment: “My proudest moment was marching several years ago during Pride. I’ve marched the parade before but that year I marched with Bronx Community Healthcare Network, which focused on working with Transgender women in the Bronx. It was really something stellar to walk in support of Transgender woman of color a group that we owe everything to in the LGBTQ community.”
Matias Gomez Constenla: Los Angeles, California
Matias Gomez Constenla, another previous Instinct Hottie, traded his life in New York City for La La Land recently where his good looks and charisma lit up the LA bar scene before COVID hit. He is another one of those guys in our community who is able to use his good looks and hilarious wit to his advantage which parlays with his profession. For now he’s doing his thing at a wine and cheese shop in Larchmont Village with hopes of serving drinks to the masses again the near future.
Proudest Moment: “Last year when I was working behind the bar at a gay bar in the West Village I had a customer who was visiting from Illinois. He was kinda shy but was really interested in talking to me and asking me questions about my life. Turns out he was completely closeted and didn’t have a single gay friend. I felt like it was my duty to become his friend so I gave him my number since he was leaving the following day. Over the next few months we developed a close friendship. He wanted to know about gay culture, our culture, his culture which he never got a chance to be a part of, So I recommended a few shows and documentaries. Eventually I helped him build the courage to come out to his close family and friends. Since then he’s been messaging me saying how grateful he is for my friendship and guidance that he can now live openly and proud as a gay man. All I did was a small act but it had a huge impact on someone’s life and I’m sure he will pass it on to others.”
Ruben Rodpa: Washington D.C.
Ruben Rodpa is a jack of all trades. He’s a contemporary surrealist artist whose colorful paintings pay tribute to his struggle of coming out as gay in his home country of Venezuela. His distinctive personal style emanates joy and peace and expresses the spirit and atmosphere of either a political, religious or a sexual environment. Ruben has also become one of the hottest men to emerge in the adult industry where he’s worked for some of the biggest studios like Raging Stallion, excelled in the world of OnlyFans and has taken home a bunch of trophies along the way. He’s heavily involved in the leather community in DC as well. Ruben previously worked on an auction with the current Mister DC Eagle Justin Sawyers to create pieces to help raise money for Black Lives Matter. It consisted of auctioning 4 art pieces that were inspired by the BLM protests. They raised almost $2,000 with one of the pieces selling in Paris.
Proudest Moment: “My proudest moment as a gay man has been to be able to come out and express myself the way I want and feeling carefree about what other people said about me. I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I remember telling my family about this and my mom started crying and the only thing she said was, ‘I’m proud of you for who you are and I would just ask you to be the same person you’ve always been’. That moment and those words became engraved in my brain.