Philadelphia is famous for Independence Hall, the iconic Liberty Bell, and– for foodies– its soft pretzels and cheesesteaks. It’s also the home of The Liberty Bears, a furry fraternity with events going on all year long. One of their biggest soirees will be the upcoming Bears in Boxers party on Saturday, May 11th, at Philly’s famous Leather bar The Bike Stop. In between bumping into each other at Furball and Urban Bear Weekend in New York City, I got to speak with Thom Caggiano, President of The Liberty Bears. He spoke with me about his club, what makes a Bear a Bear, and why you should head to the City of Beary– uh, I mean Brotherly Love… next weekend!
JR: Hi Thom. Thanks for speaking with me. So, how did the Liberty Bears get started?
TC: Like many Bear groups, the Liberty Bears began as a group of friends who hung out and socialized in the Gayborhood. Many of them lived in Center City, Philadelphia and hung out at The Bike Stop, one of Philadelphia’s Leather bars. About 17 years ago, these guys decided to form the Philadelphia Liberty Bears and wrote a Charter and formal Bylaws. The Charter members wrote down three points that explained what the Bears were about:
1. We are a social group which promotes camaraderie between Bears and their admirers, by promoting and engaging in fun events and activities;
2. We are an inclusive group. We don’t discriminate against others based on race, color, gender, religious or ethnic origin; and…
3. As a not-for-profit group in the gay community, we recognize our responsibility and as such raise funds for charities within the community at large. We choose a beneficiary for a two year period. We tend to focus our efforts on charities which deal with people affected by AIDS/HIV, especially children and young people.
JR: That’s great! So, what distinguishes the Liberty Bears from other Bear groups?
TC: I think what makes us different from other groups is the diversity of our membership. Over the years, we have had gay, straight, bisexual and trans men as well as women among our members and associate members… sometimes to the chagrin of some in the community! In fact, one of our stronger Board Members, of many years, is a straight dominatrix! We practice a policy of inclusion. We work with all kinds of groups in the community.
JR: So, what are some of the events that the Liberty Bears have going on throughout the year?
TC: Our next event, as you know, is Bears in Boxers 2.0. This is one of our signature events. Jonny Mack is coming down to make sure the music is hot and that the dance floor crowded with Bears! There will be a Sexy Bears and Sexy Boy/Cub contest. Some local hotties will be dancing and selling 50/50 raffle tickets and shots for the crowd’s appreciation. We also will have a “special competition” …looking for the hairiest man in Philly. Why? Come and find out! It will be a night of Bears, Booze and Buns… May 11th, from 10pm-2AM at the Top of the Stop, at the Bike Stop at 206 S. Quince St., Philadelphia. Five bucks gets you in! Like all of our events, this is a fundraiser for our beneficiary Galaei.
In August, we will be reprising our pool party, SWEAT. Last year, we had the party in New Hope and sold out three local hotels. This year, we are looking to do SWEAT in Philly. Of course, during the Summer we will be at Pride in Philly, NYC, and Asbury Park. Summer is the camping season, so some of us will be playing “in the Woods” on the “Hillside”. We will be participating in Outfest in the Fall (a pride event held in the Gayborhood) and helping our friend, The Philadelphia Leather Alliance, with their Pride weekend PLPN in November. In December, we will be doing Santaland: Naughty or Nice? You know what they say: “Good boys get toys…bad boys get better ones!” And Santa is ALWAYS watching!
JR: Hmmm… That sounds kind of voyeuristic! So, when someone visits Philadelphia, what are some of the things they need to put on their itinerary, especially our Leather and Bear brothers?
TC: Must do/sees in Philadelphia? I guess it depends when (and why) you are visiting. As a slogan used a few years ago “In Philadelphia get your history straight and nightlife Gay!”. Everyone should visit the Olde City. See Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. After all, this IS where it started! Visit Elfreth’s Alley, Ben Franklin’s old haunt. Everyone goes to “The Rocky Steps” (Philadelphia Art Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway), but don’t checkout the parkway itself. There is something for everyone along the Parkway: world class museums, gardens along the river, bike paths…
Bears do enjoy good food. Philly is a melting pot, foodwise, and has plenty: soft pretzels and Sticky buns (German, at the Reading Terminal Market), water ice and gelato (Italy, at the Center City and South Philly), canola, burrito, bahn mi (all available in the Italian Market). Cheese steaks (“With or without?”), roast pork sandwiches, hoagies (all over…I’m partial to South Philly!)… Great micro and major breweries (Philadelphia Brewing Co., Yards Brewery, Yuengling (west of Philly)… You HAVE to hangout in the Gayborhood. The Bike Stop is our home bar (206 S. Quince St.). If you want to dance ‘til 3AM or so, checkout Voyeur. Interested in the young set? Check out Tabu, Woody’s, Icandy or Stir.
Traditional haunts? Go to The Westbury, Tavern on Camac, UBar, Venture Inn. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Some of my favorites (for food, music, drinking) are Northern Liberties, East Passyunk Avenue (South Philly), Fishtown, Port Richmond, and, of course, the Gayborhood (in Center City). There are also tons of events on the campuses of our many universities (Penn, Temple, Drexel, LaSalle and St. Joe’s). College hoops is big in Philadelphia. If gear or attire is what you are looking for, visit Passional and the Sexplorium (704 S. 5th St.). My friend Kali Morgan will kit you out. There are tons of great bars where you can go to hear local and nationally known musicians. It just depends on you mood!
JR: Wow! That’s a lot to do! So, as President of the Liberty Bears and someone who’s very involved in the Bear community, where do you see the Bear brotherhood going in the future?
JR: Many people comment and complain that the internet has killed “The Scene”. I disagree! While there is no denying that electronic media has changed how we can find Mr Right (or, more often, Mr. Right Now!), there is no substitute wrasslin’ with a bear “mano a mano”. I can’t tell you how often guys ask me about where they can meet Bears. Whether they are Bears, or admirers, or not sure…They are interested! Look at the crowd at Furball! Three floor stuffed with Bears. Part of this, I think, is because Bears are very social and easy to approach. We like to play and have fun. Electronic media also makes it easier for Bears and our admirers to meet when we travel. The proliferation of chat sites and Bear events says, to me, the Bear community is alive and well. I think we will continue to see more Bears out and about. Some don’t like the label “Bear” because they have an image of what a Bear is…I tell people that being a Bear is about what is on the INSIDE…The hair is just a nice additional benefit!
JR: (Laughs) How true! So, just for fun: As a bona fide representative of the Bear world, what do you personally find sexy in a guy?
TC: The first thing I notice, about anyone, is their eyes. I love the ones whose eyes laugh and tell you they’re up to something. A mischievous smile is HOT. I especially like hairy guys (DUH!). A few hairs peeking out over the collar, a hairy happy trail, a furry butt… That gets me going! And, if he’s a good kisser…. That’s not to say I don’t like less Bearish guys, especially the chasers. That’s a whole different game! (Laughs)
JR: How true! Lastly, without giving too much away: What are some of the surprises that you have in store for us at the party next weekend?
TC: If I tell you, they won’t be surprises! (Laughs) Are you our next Sexy Bear or Boy? Who’s that sexy dancer with dat Bear? Could be you? Do you dare to be “bear” on May 11??? Or, are you the Hairiest man in Philadelphia…?
Who knew it was so hot in Philadelphia? Learn more about The Liberty Bears at http://www.LibertyBears.net!