RICHARD SHEPARD, MR. CONNECTICUT BEAR 2013:
"GRRRWOOOF!" IS THE WORD!
The mission of The Northeast Ursamen, in their own words, is "to provide Bears and their admirers with opportunities to meet and enjoy time together in a variety of safe and fun social events." Founded in 1992, this New England-based furry fraternity has become one of the largest and most active Bear groups in the United States. True to their original vision, the Ursamen have indeed gained attention for their diverse calendar of social events throughout the year, where there's never a shortage of food, drinks, and hairy, fun-loving guys. On Saturday, August 3, 2012, at Tommy's Bar in Middletown, Connecticut, The Northeast Ursamen brought back to life the Mr. Connecticut Bear Contest, which had been on hiatus. It became a weekend to remember! Out of five Contestants, the Winner was Richard Shepard of Palmer, Massachusetts. The 47-year old, 5'7" Shepard made quite an impression-- not just on the panel of five Judges, but also on the audience of about 200 attendees who packed the bar to watch the Contest. It's clear that this hirsute hotster make an impression WHEREVER he goes. With his smoldering, ruggedly masculine looks as well as his sense of community awareness, there's no doubt that Shepard is going to make a lasting bootprint in the Bear World. And, I have no doubt that he can keep things hot even in the middle of a Connecticut winter! Shepard spoke to me about what makes a Bear a Bear, his mission for his Title year, and (my favorite...!) what gets him hot...
JR: Hey, Richard. Thanks for speaking with me.. So, since winning the Title of Mr. Connecticut Bear 2013, it seems you’ve been busier than ever. What so far has made you most proud…or most excited?
RS: That’s definitely an understatement. I’ve been busy almost every weekend since the contest! So far I have really loved every minute of it though. The chance to meet people from all over the region and really make some terrific new friends has been a wonderful experience. The opportunity to be on my knees selling raffle tickets sure has been an icebreaker in meeting people too! I sure do love that part of my job! I think what I am most proud of is simply how well I have been accepted by both the Connecticut & Massachusetts communities in this role, and the incredible outpouring of support I have received from everyone involved.
I am probably most excited about the opportunity to be able to attend, support, and promote so many wonderful events that raise awareness and dollars for charity organizations like food shelters, local community AIDS related services, and GLBT youth support services. From the amazing event organizers and fundraising teams to the friends and customers that come out to support the events, it’s been simply incredible. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my term brings!
JR: That's great to hear! Now, a lot of the mainstream gay world still doesn’t quite get what makes a “Bear” a Bear. In your mind, what does being a Bear mean to you?
RS: Hmmmm….what’s a Bear, huh? Well, there are the obvious traits that really physically capture a what a Bear might be to most people, but as we have seen from the slew of other creature names that have been spawned as a result of the movement (otter, wolf, cub, and so many more), our community is much more than your body label. For me, being a Bear is a state of mind, first and foremost.
When I was younger, I was always trying to set myself apart from the mainstream gay community because they just didn’t seem all that nice – or maybe that was just the people I had met. I always felt like I didn’t measure up. I was always 20-25 pounds heavier than most, I couldn’t afford the most popular clothing labels, and didn’t order the top shelf liquors when I drank. I was just me, trying to find a way to fit in. I didn’t-- and never really did. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time in the 80’s and found myself in a few relationships in the 90’s before I met my husband, Shawn. It wasn’t until the early part of the 00’s that I found the Bear community. We met the guys from the Northeast Ursamen while we were in Provincetown at Halloween. We were immediately impressed by how friendly everyone associated with the group seemed. There really was no attitude and everyone was just having a great time together. After joining the NE Ursamen, we started to hear about and get involved in more Bear-oriented events, such as the Vermont Bear Film Festival and Bear Week in Provincetown. The common thing we found at every event was that these guys are just REAL guys! It didn’t matter if they were chubby, furry, muscled or skinny-- everyone just really enjoyed spending the time together.
So, for me being a Bear is much more about the mindset of a man than his physical size, shape, or "furry or not" factor. It’s about friendship, brotherhood, and community.
JR: Well said! What do you think is the most important issue facing the Bear community today?
RS: I think there are many issues that we need to be aware of in our community and they all revolve around being healthy: physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
I think it is wonderful that men of all sizes finally have a place to be comfortable in their social environment. But I am also very excited to see some of my bigger bear brothers gaining enough confidence, acceptance and strength from the community to start taking better care of their health through the combination of diet and exercise.
I think we all long for a day when HIV & STD’s are a thing of the past... but until they really are, we all have to remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and others during sex. Play a lot and play hard! Just Play Safe!
JR: A lot of guys look at Titleholders as role models as well as sex symbols. It’s obvious that a lot of guys see you as one! But what you personally find sexy in a guy? What could a guy go that would really drive you over the edge sexually?
RS: Well, first let me say “Thank you” and “Grrrwooof!” right back at you! It definitely has been a FUN additional benefit to the role for sure. This is always a hard question for me to answer, so let me start by saying that I am attracted to a very wide variety of men. Business men and geeks, to blue collar men, rough trade types to skater punks, and a whole variety in between. There just has to be that one thing that catches my attention.
What I find most sexy in a guy is confidence without being cocky, and a great sense of humor and wit with the right amount of sarcasm. Physically, a few of the traits at the top of the list for me are: great ears (huge, elfish, even tiny ones), incredible eyes, and strong hands. The sexiest guys can make you melt with a kiss, and with just a few of the right words and a touch, can make your pants fall right off on their own!
So, what would really drive me over the edge? Well, there is nothing like a man who knows how to kiss and use his mouth and tongue. Kissing is incredibly important to me and he has to be a great kisser. An incredible makeout session can be almost as amazing as…well, lets just say, if we can be kissing while we are fucking, I am a VERY happy man!
JR: Wow! I think I need some time to cool off after that! So, do you have a celebrity crush?
RS: I really don’t have a single celebrity crush. I mean, I am just not one of those star-struck people. I will say however, when I was in L.A. last year, the only person I really, really wanted to see was P!nk! I LOVE HER! Unfortunately, the stars did not line up during that trip, but I remain hopeful (Winks).
JR: Yes, I am just another gay man in love with P!nk too. I love her "So what?!" style and attitude. Now, on the flipside, what’s a turn-OFF for you?
RS: Turnoffs? Hmmm, what’s that? (Laughs) I have such a very wide range of turn-ons, that my turn-offs are harder to describe. I would start with saying that poor hygiene or overly primped and covered in layers of product & chemicals are definitely turn offs for me. I really love the smell of a man – naturally clean, no products, deodorants or colognes. I even REALLY get off on a man who’s dirty, even filthy, after a hard day’s work or workout-- but who otherwise takes care of himself.
JR: I agree! Sweaty is definitely sexy! So, it’s the responsibility of a Title holder to stand up for a cause which the feel strongly about. What cause or issue do you feel most passionate about and what, do you plan to do to make a difference?
RS: Growing up in a very small northern Massachusetts town and coming out in the 80’s was really a challenge. I was thrown out of my childhood home when my mom and stepfather couldn’t accept my being gay. But I didn’t have it as hard as many kids do. I was lucky.
I decided that with this Title, I would focus my efforts on supporting GLBT Youth organizations...specifically, two groups in my area are Safe Homes of Worcester, MA and True Colors of Hartford, CT. Both groups provide an incredible social and educational outlet and a whole range of services that are specifically related to our GLBT Youth and their families. Being young is hard. Coming out is hard. Put the two things together and you find that you have a recipe for stress, bullying, abandonment, loneliness and, all too often, suicide. My goal is to ensure that services like these remain viable and visible in our community, and to support the great work they are doing.
JR: Where’s your favorite hangout spot or favorite place to be?
RS: Well, my local hangout would be the MB Lounge in Worcester, MA. The MB Lounge is a wonderful neighborhood bar that is often referred to as the “gay Cheers of Worcester”. It is also the legacy bar of the original Malebox on Main Street in Worcester, where I went to my very first gay bar as a barely 17-year old newbie... so it has a fond history to me. Aside from it being our social outlet, we both tend bar there and I manage their events planning, promotions, artwork and website.
Beyond that, our favorite vacation spot would have to be Provincetown. We generally prefer to be there to enjoy the off-season life and visit with the locals, but also enjoy many of the theme weeks/weekends like Bear Week and Spooky Bear. No matter what time of year, it’s an amazing place to visit.
JR: Yeah! P-Town definitely tops the list of favorite spots for the Bears to hang out! And, lastly: What's your favorite guilty pleasure?
RS: Guilty pleasure, huh? I assume you mean aside from porn? Well, I guess that would still have to be watching cartoons. At 47, I am still a big kid at heart! I miss the old fashioned Saturday morning cartoons and breakfast in front of the television. So most weekends-- or any chance I get-- you will find me in front of the television with some type of cartoons or animated feature playing.
JR: Those vintage cartoons were the greatest, weren't they?! (Laughs) Anything else you’d like to tell the readers?
RS: Well, I think we have covered quite a bit here, without giving away all my secrets (Winks). I will end by saying that I am always looking to expand my circle of friends and share the excitement that is going on in my world. If any of your readers are interested in more they can follow me on http://facebook.com/mrconnecticutbear2013, or on Twitter @MrCTBear2013 or email me at email@example.com. Here's to the rest of 2013! Grrrwooof!
JR: Thanks, Richard! And "Grrrwooof" right backatcha!!!
The Mr. Connecticut Bear 2014 Contest will be coming in August. Stay tuned to www.NE-Ursamen.org for upcoming details. Richard Shepard leaves off with, "The crazy schedule is ramping back up for the last few months of my title year - I have absolutely loved it and am excited to help someone else get this excited about it as well!" Now, here's a guy who knows how to get people excited!
All images "The Bear Sessions" created by Joel Benjamin and John O'Connell, www.TheBearSessions.com. This interview originally appeared in "ALL BEAR" Magazine.