Phoenix Movie Bears Create Community Through Love of Film and Inclusion

If you like going out to movies on Wednesday night and need a group of friends, the Phoenix Movie Bears are ready and willing to join you in the fold. Originally founded as a social group for gay men who identify as bears, PMB has expanded its reach over the past five years to include everyone who's LGBT friendly.

Founder Josh Hastings spoke to Jackalope Ranch about five years of Movie Bears, a big Halloween anniversary bash, and how the organizers got their groove back through kind words from the community.

See also: 10 Favorite Gay Bars in Greater Phoenix

In 2008, Joshua Hastings got the idea to bring a movie bears group to Phoenix after being involved with a similar organization in Seattle and searching for more bear buddies in Phoenix. While it began as a bear-specific group, Hastings says there are a myriad of reasons the group opened up to anyone looking to enjoy and discuss film in a group of open-minded individuals as a more wholesome alternative to meeting people in bars. It's not just about increasing attendance for Hastings.

"It's like if you have a party with all your girlfriends and that's it," he says. "Well it's fun, but if you invited some boys over it'd probably be much more fun -- then you invite your gay friends and everyone and then you get a really great mixture."

While attendance varies and began with just two people, Hasting says adopting an inclusive attitude has helped keep attendance per event at around 20 people and made the events more fun. Through special advanced screenings that are free for movie bears members, exclusive premiers, elaborate film-themed parties and simple dinner movie discussions, Hastings ensures the group has a little something for everyone, regardless of their financial situation. He also says the group has seen a rise in female and straight male members.

"As much as I have embraced the bear community, I don't think the community can sustain the group by itself," he says.

Despite opening the group up to everyone, Hastings has encountered many challenges in keeping a weekly movie group going as long as it has. This past year the group went on a brief organizational hiatus to regroup and figure out how they plan on moving forward. Hastings says he used this down time to take in account what the group wants in terms of scheduling, screening and special events. While on break, Hastings said he received an e-mail from a gay couple with children that made him realize just why Phoenix needs events like this.

"They wanted to thank us for maintaining the group so they had an outlet that they could do as a couple or even bring their kids," he explains. "They felt that the LGBT community kind of only catered to bar-type events so it really helped them."

While he says these kind words reenergized him to keep going with the group, he did learn the value of delegating tasks to other group members so he wouldn't get burnt out. Since then, participation in Movie Bears events is on the rise. However, the group isn't solely about seeing movies. Past events include several annual movie-themed parade float entries for Phoenix Pride including Muppets Movie, Zombieland and Cabaret floats with costuming and choreographed dances. Hastings says he tries to err on the side of family-friendly with the parade floats so that the group's message isn't lost in the hyper-sexualism he typically sees at Pride.

"This is our opportunity to show the community what we're about," he says. "I try to avoid the vodka sponsors and half-naked boys because that's not what Pride represents to me. I try to keep it more positive"

The group is also planning a big Halloween party on October 26 at the Movie Bear Compound in Phoenix, where Hastings resides, since they didn't hold a party earlier in the year for their anniversary. The event will feature both family-friendly and more adult fun, along with projected horror films, though he admits romantic comedies and superhero flicks seem to be the favorite genres of the group. For more information on this event and the weekly movie nights, Hastings says the best way to stay in the loop is by visiting the Phoenix Movie Bears website and signing up for the newsletter.

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