By Steven L. Brawley
October 31, 2017: This weekend (Nov. 2-5) hundreds of bears from across the nation (and the world) will meet in St. Louis as part of the Show-Me-Bears' 22nd HiBearNation event.
The Show-Me Bears were founded in 1993 through the leadership of Mike Royal and Rich Mergen. The club's first home bar was the Outpost next to Magnolia's, and the group is now housed at JJ's Clubhouse.
Since 1993, the organization has donated more than $400,000 to local charities through fundraising events ranging from HiBearNation and Rummage Sales to Happy Hours and the Mr. Heartland Bear contest.
The term bear was popularized by Richard Bulger, who, along with his then partner Chris Nelson (1960–2006) founded Bear Magazine in 1987. There is some contention surrounding whether Bulger originated the term and the subculture's conventions. George Mazzei wrote an article for The Advocate in 1979 called "Who's Who in the Zoo?", that characterized homosexuals as seven types of animals, including bears. My own research shows the term bear being used as far back as 1966 by the LA Satyrs Motorcycle Club.
What is a bear? According to Wikipedia, a bear is a large, hairy man who projects an image of rugged masculinity. Bears are one of many LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity. Whatever your definition, St. Louis' bear community is known for its charitable spirit.
The Project has come across what may be one of the earlierst graphic representations of bear culture in the St. Louis community. See image below (or click on read more).
This ad appeared in a January 1993 issue of Night Gazer - a St. Louis/KC gay bar magazine. The artwork was created by Mike Royal on behalf of the Outpost's owner Mike Bertnolli.