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Credit: Jeff Chastain

For the second year in a row, Manhattan Digest has put together a list simply known as Bears You Should Know.  What attributes does one need to make this list?  For one, vanity and looks have nothing to do with it.  This isn’t a calendar of sorts for men to ogle over, although each guy is incredibly handsome in their own way.  This list simply highlights an amazing group of gay men who are inspiring positive change for our community.

From Manhattan to North Carolina and all the way across the pond in England, each of these guys are doing something really amazing that is putting smiles on people’s faces and helping better our culture each day.  With so much negativity in the world right now, its good to see that there are guys like this out there. Take a look at who we chose for our annual list.

Bears
Credit: Bearonce Knows

Bearonce Knows AKA Albert Ontiveros- Los Angeles, California

A big portion of articles that I have done discuss embracing your body in this community, which can be tricky at times.  Bearonce perpetuates this important image in her work in many facets, mostly due to her former life as Mr. Los Angeles Bear and Mr. Southern California Bear.  Bearonce also helps by volunteering her time to host fundraisers for various non profit organizations all over Southern California.  On the flip side, Albert is a staff member for AIDS/LifeCycle, which is a 545 mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center.  Prior to working for AIDS/LifeCycle, Albert completed the ride…. (TWICE) as a cyclist and has stewarded multiple teams across the finish line raising over $100,000.00.  In this case, duality can equal multiplicity in how one can positively affect all of us.  More here.

Bears
Credit: Ali Mushtaq

Ali Mushtaq- Anaheim, California

Leather never looked so good on someone, right?  In this case, Ali has taken the concept of leather and turned it into something absolutely fantastic for our community.  Ali is a founding member of ONYX South West and current Vice President. As such, he has helped raise money for multiple charities including APLA, Minority AIDS Project, and Bienestar. He is also the current reigning Mr. Long Beach Leather. In cooperation with the LA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Long Beach Imperial Court, Ali has produced successful events that have funded AIDS Lifecycle (attended by Long Beach Mayor, Robert Garcia) and the LGBT Center of Long Beach. ​

In addition to working with the leather community, Ali bridges non-leather/leather adjacent groups into the leather community. For example, his outreach includes leather workshops that serve as an introduction to the leather and kink community for college students. He also represented Long Beach Leather in various publications, such as the LA Times, GED Magazine, Instinct, Queerty, Fight Magazine, and Playbear. In addition, he has appeared on KFI AM640’s radio show to promote leather and BDSM.  More about him here.

Bears
Credit: Chris Bonatsakis

Chris Bonatsakis- Storrs, Connecticut

Chris was an easy choice for this list, as he exemplifies what the word “hero” can really be.  He joined the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus (HGMC) in Fall 2015, which ended up changing his life forever. HGMC uses choral music as a catalyst for enriching and educating both participants and audiences by demonstrating to individuals the many ways music positively impacts our world. Through song, they promote tolerance, acceptance, and love within the LGBTQIA+ community.

In fall 2016, their artistic director Michael Winslow shared some news with them that put a cloud in front of the vision they shared as a chorus brotherhood. Michael has been suffering from Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). PKD is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts in the kidneys. His kidney functioning was at 20% and he would soon need to go on dialysis if he did not receive a new kidney within a few years.

Several chorus members were tested to become donors, and Chris ended up being a match. They had a successful kidney transplant on Jan 24th, 2017. Michael has had no issues with rejection and they just completed their fifth season as a chorus and as brothers in song. Since then, they have been raising money and awareness for both kidney-related diseases and LGBTQIA+ organizations. Absolutely incredible!  More on HGMC here.

Credit: Dan Jimenez

Dan Jimenez- Bronx, New York

If you were to ever visit a bear party here in Manhattan, Dan Jimenez is one of those guys you should not only see, but meet. He was another easy choice for this list in that his charismatic personality, humor and upbeat persona make him someone you want to know as he has become a mainstay at the major bear events here in NYC. Dan has participated in past AIDS Walks, has helped raise funds for charities at local events, and has inspired others in our community to take up Gogo dancing as a way to help build their confidence.  Pretty awesome.  More here.

Credit: Jason Russo – HeyMrJason Photography

Richard Jones- New York, New York by way of Coventry, United Kingdom

My little publication pales in comparison to what Richard has done for the community on the media side. Richard is the CEO of Bear World Media, which is the home of BearWorldMagazine.com and now Bear World TV (hosted on REVRY). He has, over the last 5 years, worked to bring the bear community to the forefront, and given a home to all kinds of bears who write, design, blog, travel, cook, act, model and more, allowing the male body image to be more realistically represented. Bear World Magazine has shown that all kinds of bears can be seen in the media and proven that every gay man regardless of body type has something to offer in all walks of life.

Bears
Credit: Royce Bugarin

Vinny Parrello- New York, New York 

Stop gagging everyone, Vinny is much more than just being insanely gorgeous.  Vinny has become a known personality here in Manhattan, due to his presence on the cover of many bear posters, promoting events such as the recent Urban Bear Weekend and Furball.  He’s an incredibly kind and sweet guy who goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels included, which can be a tough aspect within this community and has parlayed a lot of that into helping with charity work such as our most recent Manhattan Digest event that raised money for GMHC.  More on him here.

Bears
Credit: Phillip Hazell

Andrew Clarke AKA Moodybear- Manchester, United Kingdom

Music and apparel are two of my favorite things, and that seems to follow suit for Andrew Clarke across the pond who has catapulted on both in his own country but also across the world. Andrew is the creator of Moodybear– a business in making shirts and apparel for bears.  It’s grown a community of its own, with people recognizing the brand and the fight against mental illness it has represented over the years.

He has also organized Beareoke in Manchester for almost a decade now, which essentially is bears singing to the hits and has been a huge success since its inception, as well as organizing Project Bear: bringing different guys with different backgrounds together to feel celebrated for being themselves, and able to see how others feel they would like to be seen- Cubs, Pups, Chasers, Bears. It was a total celebration of the “labels” that we use in the community but also a way to show “so what,” and the incredible cliché of “I am what I am!”.  Stay tuned for what’s next from him.

Bears
Credit: Shane Tate

Shane Tate- Manhattan, New York

If you are ever in need of a bear party in and out of Manhattan, Shane Tate is your dude.  He has been a huge party promoter for almost thirty years now, most recently with the addition of the ever so popular Beers and Bears at the Ritz and Truck Stop at REBAR, as well his biggest- Fire Island Bear Weekend.  His events showcase a comradery in our community that is not often seen in a lot of the bar scenes in that he has established a friendly & welcoming environment for everyone who wants to participate.  More on his fabulousness here.

Credit: Micah Perry

Micah Perry- Los Angeles, California

With over sixteen years of experience, Micah is one of the most sought after tattoo artists in the Los Angeles area.  His primary clients are fellow gay men, who for each he tries to connect with then on a certain level so that he may translate what they are feeling into the most beautiful art he can for them. With his business Tattoos and Fine Art by Micah Perry, he is glad to work with the community and hopes that he can deliver the most quality art for these guys that he can. More on him here.

Credit: Jeremy Flex

Jeremy Flex- Tempe, Arizona

How does Jeremy define himself in four words?  Geek. Lifter. Pizza connoisseur.  Jeremy is the creator and founder of Flex Comics, which has dedicated his geekiness to making people laugh. For the past 4 years Jeremy has produced, together with his business partner Chris Marzuola, a free weekly webcomic for the fit-focused superhero-in-training.  Suffering from Resting Gym Face? No sweat, Jeremy’s well known for creating comical parody workout apparel that will have you smiling at first glance. Not all superheroes can fly, but Jeremy’s also a helicopter pilot so that’s pretty dang close.  Jeremy is currently working on bringing his next big dream to life, the Flex Foundation, which is a non-profit that will serve to help those in need of smiles and gains.  His ideal partner: Someone who can enjoy romantic walks to the fridge and moonlit strolls to great pizza joints.  I volunteer as tribute, then.

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Credit: Chris Reed

Chris Reed- Bronx, New York

The handsome Chris Reed is an accomplished actor but has also dedicated a lot of his time within the bear community.  He is a huge advocate for diversity, which is why he started his event called Beefcake six years ago to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable, desired and sexy.  Also, every year he does a big cruise for pride for the Bear and Big Boy Community and it has been the largest Bear Pride non-club event in the last 5 years. This year we are expecting over 500 people from around the world.  More on him here.

Credit: Martha FitzSimon

Jonathan M. Bardzik- Washington D.C.

Jonathan is like Julia Child, only way hairier and hotter.  He describes himself as a storyteller, cook and author who has become one of the most in demand chefs in the DC area and beyond with his fantastic culinary abilities that you must try for yourself.  He wrote two amazing cookbooks including Seasons to Taste, which showcases great and heartwarming recipes to savor from the fall to the summer, as well as lending his support to charities like the LGBT Fallen Heroes Fund and at events like this year’s HiBearNation in St. Louis.  His passion ultimately is his storytelling with his food, as his passion for it reads in every tasting and event that he does.  If food is the name of your game, then Jonathan is here to play.

Bears
Credit: Jeff Chastain

Jeff Chastain- Manhattan, New York

Jeff is one of the most multi-faceted guys I have ever met.  He has been a resident of NYC for 13 years, is an amazing hairstylist down in the West Village, has been sober from drugs and alcohol for nine years and so much more which has shaped him into being one of the hardest working bears out there.

With his sobriety completely in check (which has helped him grow spiritually and help many others in the process), Jeff has developed a men’s grooming line called MASC by Jeff Chastain, which has everything you need from your beard to your junk.  The Kickstarter for this is still under way, and you can find more about that here. He is also donating 50 percent of all proceeds that go to MASC products to charities and funds helping the LGBT community recover from drug and alcohol addiction.  Looking good while helping others out?  Yes, please.

Credit: Shane Lukas

Shane Lukas- Greensboro, North Carolina

In a state that is riddled with homophobia like North Carolina, Shane Lukas is doing all that he can to make sure his LGBTQ breathren are taken care of in many different aspects.  He kicked up Out.Vote which pushed to get LGBT people both to get registered to vote and actually make it to the polls. The project was a 3-month effort which will be refreshed for the coming 2018 cycle and had many local residents flashing their VOTER cards and voting their pride at the polls.

Other projects he is working on in the Tar Heel state include a series of cookouts to take place in the rural regions all around the state centered around fostering conversation and diversity. It has a strong queer component but represents a partnership of numerous organizations and progressives in order to bridge the urban/rural divide.  Another one is quarterly men’s (masculine of center?) social night called Know Homo.  They are interested in providing a space where you can do something fun and meet people outside of a bar or an app. Their first event is June 29.

Credit: Charlie Conard

Charlie Conard- Manhattan, New York 

Charlie Conard’s goal is to help not only his fellow bears, but members of the LGBTQ community in the professional environment by connecting each other in and out of The Big Apple.  Charlie is the president of the Board of Directors of Out Professionals, the nation’s leading nonprofit networking organization for LGBT professionals. In the past four years it has expanded programming, increased events, and doubled membership in the 34-year-old organization.

In his business life, Charlie is the founder of Social Go To, a social media consulting business specializing in social media strategy, advertising, and promotions.  For Charlie, LGBTQ + Careers equal some fantastic results.

6 COMMENTS

  1. 7 of the 15 are from NY. 3 from CA. I do know people who are on this list and that’s great and all but what about the rest of the world? There are so many great guys making a difference worldwide. I think this article should have been approved with a broader, more global representation. What I get from this overall article is you aren’t relevant unless you live on a coast in America. We are a beautiful collective that shouldn’t even need a list at all.

  2. This is an awesome list, and I’m thrilled to be friends with some of these amazing people. Two more nominations, if I may? Justin Utley, an openly gay performer in the not terribly homo-friendly country-western music world who’s done scads of activism work for gay and HIV-related causes in his home state of Utah, and Jesse Jackman, Titan porn star, who’s used his public visibility as a platform for political and social awareness causes, and is a big proponent of acceptance of adult entertainers as “just one of all the rest of us”.

  3. Joe Fiore, who has organized and hosted FURBALL Dances for Bears all across North America (including Toronto) for 12 years should definitely be included on the list! He’s done dances in Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, and others! Few people have touched the lives of more Bears than Joe!

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