By Denny Patterson
The Bears of South Florida are ready to welcome you with open arms. Not only does this popular social group provide a venue for bears and their admirers to meet up, hang out, attend events, and enjoy each other’s company, but it is also a nonprofit fundraising organization that raises money and donations for local charities and causes. Founded and incorporated in 2002, the Bears of South Florida also host numerous events and gatherings throughout the calendar year, such as movie nights, pool parties, potlucks, and more. This is the perfect group for friend and camaraderie. I had the pleasure of chatting with the organization’s president, Kevin Daft. The Bears of South Florida have so much to offer, so make sure to check them out!
For those who are not familiar with the Bears of South Florida, what kind of organization is it?
The Bears of South Florida, Inc. (BOSFL) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We are a social/charitable group that raises funds through a variety of activities, then donates that money to support other non-profit LGBTQ+ organizations in our community.
You are the organization’s president. How long have you been with the group, and why did you want to be involved?
I joined BOSFL back in 2015, not long after I moved to the area. My first event was a pool party. My husband and I had friends visiting that weekend from out of town, and we brought them with us. I think we knew two or three people at the party that day, but by the end of the party I felt like we’d met virtually everyone there. It was a very fun, welcoming group of guys, and I knew then I wanted to become active within the club.
How has your life changed since becoming a member?
I have made a lot of new friends and acquaintances within the club, and through our activities, I have become a lot more familiar with the community as well.
Do you believe this group has been very beneficial for the South Florida community?
Absolutely! This is a two-part answer. For our members, we offer an opportunity to participate in a variety of events ranging from pool parties to theater, bowling, movie nights, excursions to Flamingo Gardens and Miami (via Brightline), a Scare-A-Bear night at Enigma Haunt in October, potlucks, beach days, and more. Whether you are single and looking to meet people and be part of a group, or a couple looking to make new friends and spend time with old friends, the Bears have an event for you.
BOSFL benefits the community by giving back the money we collect through our member events. At our last holiday party in December, we presented grants totaling $10,000 to five local non-profits: the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, Island City Stage, the Pride Center at Equality Park, the South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, and Stonewall Museum & Archives. Over the past decade, BOSFL has given over $100,000 back to the local LGBTQ community. We also partner with the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and Hunters Nightclub to promote a teddy bear drive for children hospitalized in the Broward Health system.
What do you hope members ultimately gain by joining?
We hope our members gain a sense of belonging to a group that not only has a lot of fun, but also is engaged with and supports the community.
I know you host movie nights, pool parties, and many other events throughout the year. Can you tell me about some other events you all orchestrate, and how many people generally attend?
Our most popular events are pool parties. The parties are generally held at private residences and are attended by 100-150 people depending on the size of the yard and pool. These parties tend to sell out within 24-48 hours. We are only limited by the capacity of the location. Other events are often smaller. We have had up to 75 bowlers at Manor Lanes, 45 seats at Island City Stage, and between 25 and 50 at other events. The attendees can be very different between events, which really increases the opportunities to meet new people who share a common interest.
Can anyone join and is there a membership fee?
BOSFL is a men’s organization for bears, cubs, masculine men, and those who wish to socialize with them. We have a diverse membership in age, ethnicity and interest, and our members come from all over South Florida. We welcome diversity – you don’t have to be a bear to join. Membership is free, and registration is easy on our website, BOSFL.org.
What would you say are some of the top reasons as to why one should join the Bears of South Florida?
BOSFL is a very active organization, with multiple events scheduled monthly throughout the year. Attending our functions is a great way to meet nice people outside the bars and try some different activities. We do not care if you are not buff or if you can’t bowl; we even celebrate our bowling low scorers with the highly-coveted “gutter bear” trophy! It’s all about having fun together while helping the community.
How would you say the Bears of South Florida have changed and grown since its inception in 2002?
The mission of promoting social interaction between our members and philanthropy hasn’t changed. We have grown steadily though, and currently have over 1,600 members.
What do you hope the organization accomplishes within the next year or so?
We asked our members to complete a survey back in November, soliciting feedback and ideas for future events as well as asking for volunteers to help with events and to take a leadership role in the organization. The results were terrific. We have already added some new activities based on those responses and we will continue to explore additional ideas. I think getting more members involved in helping with events will only increase the feeling of camaraderie within the club.
Do you think the group is continuously heading towards the right direction?
I think so. We have been voted the Best Social Club in SFGN for three years in a row, and I feel that the club’s reputation as a positive and embracing organization has steadily increased. I also hope to increase our giving back to the community each year as the club grows and hosts more events.
How is the Bears of South Florida different from other similar groups?
There are many Bear groups across the country and throughout the world, including others in central and northern Florida. I think it’s safe to say that all of them hold regular social functions for their members. We are a little different from a lot of other Bear groups because of our philanthropy and involvement with the community. I would also like to think we do a pretty good job with the number and scope of events we sponsor.
What’s next for the Bears of South Florida?
[At the time of this interview], in April 2019, the Bears will take a trip to Flamingo Gardens in Davie, attending 9 to 5: The Musical at the Broward Center, and meeting for a day at the beach. In May 2019, we will be singing (or not) at a Bear-aoke event, holding a movie night at Stonewall Museum and Gallery, and kicking off our pool party season. Check out our event calendar on the BOSFL.org website and on Facebook.