VICTORIA’S social club for the gay bear community VicBears will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary in the state’s LGBTI community.

Since 1996 VicBears has provided spaces for the bear community and those interested in the community to meet in a welcoming and inclusive environment.

VicBears committee member Rob Camm said it was this inclusivity that has lent itself to their longevity.

“We’re very non-judgmental – sometimes we hear people who were told they weren’t hairy enough,” he told the Star Observer.

“It’s not club policy that you have to have ‘x’ number of hairs on your body or a beard.

“Anyone can be a bear whether you feel like it yourself, are attracted to it, or are just looking for company… if we keep that attitude alive we’ll be around for another 20 years.”

The bear community began as a marginalised fringe group in the 1990s and has now grown to become a high-profile group within the LGBTI community.

Camm said there were plenty of people who are part of the club that considered its members as family.

“We provide opportunities for people to feel a sense of mateship, we’re like their brothers, or family,” he said.

“In some of these cases, it’s when their actual families have abandoned or distanced themselves from them because of their sexuality.

“VicBears is about being inclusive and accepting of those who aren’t necessarily ‘mainstream’ or those who don’t have hairless, slim bodies – we welcome anyone, you don’t have to be worries about your looks.”

To mark the club’s anniversary, VicBears will host a gala event in Melbourne. Hosted by past club presidents, it will feature a lineup of performers, entertainers, and showgirls.

VicBears president Peter Undy said the gala event would simultaneously celebrate the club’s history and look ahead to its future.

“We are so proud of our history, since the club was formed way back in 1996,” he said.

“It seems only fitting that we celebrate this milestone with an all-inclusive event to reflect on our amazing past and look forward to our exciting future.”

As a not-for-profit group VicBears annually donates funds it raises to selected charities and organisations.

With hundreds of events held, VicBears has raised over $200,000 for various causes to date.

This year the group has chosen the Victorian AIDS Council’s (VAC) Pantry Service to donate to, and will hand over a cheque in the middle of the year.

VicBear’s Gala Event will be held at The Comics Lounge in North Melbourne on Friday April 22.

Details and tickets can be purchased through the VicBears website or Facebook page.

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