Entertainment | LGBTQIA+

Aotearoa reclaims Mr Australasia Bear crown after seven years

As most of the world celebrates Pride Month, the Mr Australasia Bear title has been rewarded to Aotearoa, making it the first time in seven years since New Zealand was crowned.

Aotearoa representative was Tia Craig Walters, also known as TiaBear, who won Mr Bear New Zealand 2024 in February during Aotearoa Pride Month, which landed him a ticket to compete against other winners.

“I was the New Zealand representative, and it was just an honour for me to be able to go over there, enter the Australian queer space to represent not just my queer bear community but also be able to represent my culture.

“It’s beautiful to be able to bring [the title] home and, as I’ve always said to my friends, my community and my whānau, my triumphs aren’t just for myself they’re for everybody.

“That was the biggest thing in me - making sure that everybody who I stood for, the community, my culture and my whānau, I was making sure that they were heard as well through how I spoke and presented myself.”

A ‘bear’ is slang in the gay community for a hairier and heavy-set person.

Mr Australasia Bear is a pageant dedicated to the bear community within queer culture, which has been happening since 1997. Contestants are expected to answer questions from a panel of judges, participate in two different categories, and showcase their talents in a talent show, where Walters demonstrated his dance skills.

In the competition, Walters was the only contestant to represent a whole country while the others represented Australian states.

Mr Australasia Bear contestants. Photo: Supplied.

Walters talked about the diversity among the contestants this year and how the majority of them were people of colour, something that he said would not have have happened in the past.

“I think it actually was the most diverse Mr Bear Australasia competition there has ever been, especially having a lineup where out of the six, four of us are people of colour and in the space of the bear community in the earlier years it was very hard for people of colour to come into this space and feel welcomed.

“For us to be able to stand up there on that platform and show other ethnicities of colour and other people who look like us and can see us, it also invites them to come into the space and know that they are welcome and they’re safe and that’s the most beautiful thing about it,” he said.

Walters isn’t the first Māori person to win the competition as the previous year’s winner was from Ngāi Tahu but wasn’t representing New Zealand in the pageant.

Walters is now getting ready for the Mr Bear International. event in Thailand early next year.