Keepers of the Bear Community in Rochester
Clair Wood and Richard Peters are pillars of Rochester’s GLBT community. It is not just within Rochester that the couple’s presence is known.
Over the past two decades, Bears have settled in major metropolitan areas for a more suitable life. A larger community offers opportunities and an instant camaraderie to attract Bears, as well as other newcomers and visitors.
Sometimes, we become aware of Bear community activities outside of a major metropolitan area.
For example, North Country Bears (NCB) sponsored Fur Flee Weekend March 6-8 in Duluth-Superior that drew a large number of participants.
If you look on Bear411, the most popular gay chat site for Bear-identified men, approximately 1,100 members are from Minnesota. Do a search for members in Minneapolis, and you will find 47 pages of users, which accounts for approximately 564 members. It’s estimated that the Twin Cities has about two-thirds of the members from Minnesota on the Bear411 site.
What about the rest of the Minnesota guys? Where are they?
Certainly, small enclaves exist in the Duluth-Superior area and in Rochester. Everyone else is spread out among smaller towns and rural areas statewide.
In Rochester (population 100,000), you will find a small but active group of Bear-identified men. In the center of it all are Clair Wood and Richard Peters, two gentlemen with thick graying beards and sweet demeanors.
Originally from Provo, Utah, Wood came to Rochester for a job soon after his college graduation. He met his partner, Rochester native Peters, through a mutual friend at a local dance sponsored Gay and Lesbian Community Services of Southeast Minnesota (GLCS). Through thick and thin, Wood and Peters have maintained a loving relationship that has lasted 20 years, buoyed by careers and a home together.
Wood was the first to discover the Bear community in the early 1990s, when he began subscribing to Bear Magazine and the fledgling Bear Network e-mail group. On a trip to Minneapolis, he went to the Gay 90’s, where he met Rusty, founder of North Country Bears. Wood learned of Rusty’s plans to create the Bear club for the area, and since been supportive of its efforts.
Wood and Peters are pillars of Rochester’s GLBT community. Their work is not limited to just the local Bears, but also extends to the greater community—they have been a part of the city’s Pride celebrations since 2003.
It is not just within Rochester that the couple’s presence is known. Throughout Southeastern Minnesota, Bear-identified men know that Wood and Peters provide a regular stop for “bearish men” in the region.
Wood started a series of weekly dinners in 1998, in part because he felt that at the time, GLCS was not meeting his and Peters’s social needs. The dinners continue today on a monthly basis, attracting an average of 6 to 14 attendees, mainly from the Rochester area. In the meantime, a series of Bear coffees in early 2000s declined because its regulars moved out of the area.
During Rochester’s PrideFest, Wood and Peters host a barbeque after the festival, featuring a cookout on an outdoor wood fire. According to Peters, at last year’s barbecue, a group of 50 hailing from throughout Southeastern Minnesota raised $175 for GLCS and PrideFest.
Not all Bears in Rochester and Southeastern Minnesota participate in Bear dinners or local Pride events. The biggest challenge facing Wood and Peters is that a growing number of guys from the region are popping up on Bear411.com.
Wood acknowledges that these men are “coming out online, but they’re still not willing to take the big step, and come out and be with a group in public.”
Part of the reason is the conservative nature of Southeastern Minnesota society, which can make it a difficult place to live openly as a gay man, and to identify with a subculture inside gay male society.
Wood admits that some of the men from their area still feel it is more comfortable to drive to the Twin Cities to socialize with other Bear-identified men. However, he notes that a weekly bar night at Rookies Bar and Grill in Rochester is an effort to reverse this trend. He reiterates that Rochester offers a lot for GLBT people, as the region continues to grow.
One might say that both Wood and Peters are keepers of the Bear lifestyle in Rochester. However, both are unique in the way they live their lives beyond the subculture by continuing to support the entire GLBT community in the region.
In every community, big and small, there are a Clair Wood and Richard Peters who are beacons for other Bear-identified men to gravitate to for a sense of belonging and socialization.