The bears will be returning to San Francisco this winter after all, but for more of a DIY event than an officially organized weekend.
For years the city played host each February to the International Bear Rendezvous, a three-day-long gathering for hirsute gay and bisexual men and their admirers. But after 17 years, organizers retired the party weekend following the 2011 event.
Increasing costs, funding shortfalls, a lack of new volunteers, and the ease for bears (and cubs, otters, pandas, and other subsets within the larger bear community) to meet online and at regional bars or events were cited as key reasons for ending the get-together, whose genesis was the first Bear Expo held in 1992.
But Ursus, at least the gay variety, don’t want to hibernate all winter long. So they are launching a new event called SF Bear Weekend. The gathering will take place over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, which falls on February 17-20.
“The bears will be back but it is not IBR. It is being Internet driven and is not officially sponsored,” Jeff Stiarwalt, a local resident who is helping to re-launch the event, told Castro merchants last month.
According to the event’s Facebook page, gone are IBR’s dog tags and any official registration. There also will not be a host hotel, designated charities, or a theme associated with the weekend.
“Sadly, 2011 was the last IBR. In its absence, and with the understanding that the essence of any bear event is of course the people, SF Bear Weekend – a grassroots, web 2.0, social media driven event was born,” states the page, which can be found athttp://www.sfbearweekend.com.
The men behind the weekend are turning the disadvantages that caused IBR’s demise into strengths. Namely, anyone and any bar or charity group can decide to have their own event during the bear weekend and promote it on the event website, which automatically directs people to the Facebook page.
Participants, in turn, can organize their own schedule that weekend. The hope is that the event will not only go viral, helping to attract visitors those dates, but also become a permanent part of the city’s LGBT calendar, similar to how Pride is always the last weekend of June in San Francisco.
“Hopefully, upon the success of the first SF Bear Weekend, it shall be declared by the Bears of Planet Earth, that now and forevermore the third weekend of February shall be an international bear weekend in the Great City of San Francisco, regardless of if there’s a person, group, page, twitter, or anything else to promote it,” states the Facebook page. “Everyone will just know to come to SF for Bear Weekend, like Marti Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio.”
The event’s Facebook page went live in early October, and already more than 330 people have indicated they plan to participate. Several of the city’s gay bars and Eros, the male sex club in the Castro, are hosting events, ranging from beer busts and happy hours to dance parties and a farewell barbecue.
“I guess I am happy anytime things like this pop up. There’s really no such thing as too many opportunities to get together as a community,” San Francisco resident Daniel Hlad, who plans to participate, told the Bay Area Reporter.>
Others like the unofficial aspect to the weekend.
“Not knocking IBRs of the past but I’m glad that the pageants, most of the organized events; etc. are through! I’ve always had the best time on these weekends when> I didn’t have to follow any ‘schedule,'” wrote Wayne Kaye on the Facebook page. “For me, free time is the only way to go during these weekends!”
Anyone who wants to have an event listed as part of the weekend’s itinerary can email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org