We often have divergent ideas of what leadership is all about, especially in the GLBT community. Always trying to look for the people in charge, we hope they guide us through the fight for equality and acceptance into general society. Yet, we often misunderstand what leadership truly means, not only for the community, but also for our leaders.
In one of the management courses I just finished in graduate school, we explored the concept of leadership inside nonprofit organizations. Perhaps this point will help us understand what it is truly about: “Leadership today is not about authority, control, and dominance. Today’s leader inspires, guides, and directs excellence and motivation. Inspiration is the key.”
In the Bear community, we are fortunate to have two leaders who fit these criteria: Kevin Beam, President of North Country Bears, and Rick Perry, Cofounder of Minneapolis Movie Bears.
Beam grew up in a small town in Northern Wisconsin before moving to the Twin Cities to attend the University of Minnesota. He started attending Bear coffees back in the late 1990s before he became involved with North Country Bears. He became its President after serving as its Treasurer. Though a board oversees the club, he makes sure that the open structure of the organization is preserved.
Beam says, “We’re a somewhat unique bear group in that we don’t have a paid membership. All of our events are pay-as-you-go, which I believe increases overall participation. Also, you don’t have to be a Bear to be part of the North Country Bears. Our group is for both Bears and Bear admirers.”
Originally from Gloucester, Massachusetts, Perry has made the Twin Cities his home since 2001. Before he and his partner, Eric Blad, and another couple, J.D. Schulz and Brad Wilson, started Minneapolis Movie Bears, Perry never had been involved with any organizations in the Bear community. The group got under way when the two couples started going to movies together. In turn, they began inviting their friends along, using e-mail as a way to communicate their outings.
Perry explains, “That turned into a Yahoo! group to get details to members. That only lasted about four months, due to the spam, so we decided to start a Web site.”
This beginning grew into an active network of hundreds on the e-mail list.
The secret to the success of Minneapolis Movie Bears is simple, according to Perry: “We were looking for something to do in the middle of the week, and Tuesdays worked well, because of the discounted popcorn at the theater.”
Even as Minneapolis Movie Bears grows under an organizing committee managing it, Perry is the name and the face of the group. He runs online functions, from writing e-mails to maintaining the Web site’s content.
Perry shares, “I love taking the time to send the e-mails. It helps people stay informed on what we are up to. I never expected that when the group started, we would have as much to discuss as we do. It is fun, and overall, the feedback has been positive about the amount of information provided.”
Along with North Country Bears, Minneapolis Movie Bears maintains itself as a social organization that is not limited to just the Bear community, but encompasses friends and admirers as well.
Both Beam and Perry take pride in what they do as leaders in the local Bear community. In separate conversations over the past few months, I witnessed how successful they were in gathering people and resources for philanthropic purposes.
The Minnesota AIDS Project recognized Minnesota Movie Bears and Perry for being the second highest group in pledges for the 2008 Minnesota AIDS Walk.
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department recognized North Country Bears and Beam for being the largest donor in 2008 of stuffed animals, which officers use in their video visiting areas and squads to calm and comfort children. In addition, the North Country Bears Octobear Dance and Silent Auction at Innuendo raised almost $3,000 for District 202, a nonprofit community center for GLBT youth.
Given all the work that Beam and Perry do in their respective organizations, I asked, “What does it take to be a leader in the Bear community?”
Beam answered, “I believe a good leader recognizes that one does not lead independently. Leadership is part of a collective endeavor, with the realization that there are leaders among us that we must collaborate with.”
Perry’s take is completely different: “I don’t look at it as being a leader. I look at it as being part of an organization that brings the community together. I think it is fun, and that is the main reason why I do it.”
In other communities, one would think that having two strongly supported organizations inside a subculture would cause strife and rivalry among the people involved in them. Not so in the Twin Cities. These clubs not only complement each other, but also provide support for each other in various ways. One can say that both Beam and Perry also complement each other through their differing styles of leadership.
If anyone wants to get involved in leading the Bear community, Beam points out an opening on the North Country Bears Board. Contact the group for more information by e-mailing via its Web site at <www.ncbears.com>.