Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Putting Out the Bears Flag

Perhaps the most familiar 4 lgbt flags are the Rainbow flag, the Leather flag, the Bi flag, and today’s subject, the Bear flag.

The official name for this is the flag of the International Bear Brotherhood. Its not an official organisation but the name used informally for all lovers of bears and hairy men.

In recent years some controversy has surrounded the origin and design of this flag. Most reference sources refer to Craig Byrnes as its creator. He certainly has the right qualifications – he was a founding member of the Chesapeake Bay Bears group and was Mr. Baltimore Bear Cub in 1993 and Mr. Teddy Bear Leather of Virginia in 1994. He also posed naked in “American Grizzly” magazine and in “American Bear” magazine twice. In the past couple of years, though, Craig’s reputation had been tarnished.

The story of the International Bear Brotherhood flag begins in 1995 when Craig was studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology. His thesis was on the bear community. He was already aware of the Leather Pride flag and he decided to design a flag for the bear community to be included with his thesis.

For his birthday that year Craig’s boyfriend bought him a box of crayons (strange present!). Using these Craig came up with his first design. He then contacted an old boyfriend, Paul Witzkoske, a professional graphic designer. Paul offered his professional advice and suggested some changes. They couldn’t agree on a single design, so Craig suggested they should hold a competition at an up-coming summer pool party of the Chesapeake Bay Bears group and let the bear community decide which to adopt.

Pictured here are the 4 designs Craig and Paul chose to display at the pool party. Two were Craig’s suggestions and two were Paul’s The party guests were asked to place 25 cents in a bucket beneath the flag they preferred. The winner would be the flag with the most money, and the cash went to AIDS charities.

At the end of the pool party the winner was revealed to be this one …

… the one which is now familiar around the world. It was one of Paul’s designs.

Craig Byrnes set up a company called Bear Manufacturing which produced this flag commercially and began to claim sole credit for the design. Debate has been going on in America as to how much credit Paul should get. Generally he never gets a mention but support for his involvement has been growing. The original concept and idea was certainly Craig’s and he should be given full credit for that. But the actual end design, a clear modification of the original design for Craig’s thesis, is Paul Witzkoske’s.

Events involving Craig Byrnes and the courts in Washington DC are outside the scope of this particular post, and some may consider his name taboo in light of them. But in the name of history I think Craig and Paul should be given equal credit for designing the International Bear Brotherhood flag.


  1. 5- I sent the government copyright office the bear flag. I didn't send them the graphic. The flag is copyrighted. The current pantone colors of the bumper sticker are copyrighted. Your pantone colors have never been used in any product I produced.

    6- Paul, I gave you a free product every single time I Made something. I wanted to show my appreciation for your help.
    I never made a dime off the bear flag. I learned later, after going to over 100 bear events in 6 years, that no product could make a profit when it comes to the bear community. There are about 600,00 bears in the whole world, as compared to 35 million gay people in the US. Only a product such as a rolls Royce could be a money maker with such a small population of people. Once I figured that out, I stopped making the flag stuff.

    7- I did wish to pay off over $18,000 in school loans I took out to work on my degree at Mary Baldwin College. I have to laugh today. I ended up giving $18-$20,000 worth of products to two lesbians who were running a company that sold gay stuff. They sent me a check for the web site. It bounced. I never heard from them again. Sadly, I'm still paying off those school loans 20 years later. I never profited from the flag. I raised thousands of dollars for AIDS charities from 1995 to 2001, traveling from city to city with all that stuff. Paul, how much money did you raise for charity with the flag? Did you ever go to a bear event and haul hundreds of pounds of t-shirts, hats and stuff from airport to hotel and back home?

    8- The McDonald's brothers made McDonald's. They had a design company do their logo. McDonald's transferred to Ray Kroc early on and McDonald's goes on. What design company gave the McDonald's brothers their logo? Was McDonald's theirs? They were a graphic design firm. The logo today has changed. The M used to look like the golden arches around the restaurant. Now it's just a giant M. Paul, the flag will be 20 years June 14th. Can we just agree that the Bear Community has a loving symbol that Walter, Bob, you and I put together. I couldn't sleep until I put this bear flag out. I don't know why. The first 2 years carrying all that stuff, having bear clubs telling me I couldn't display the flag outside the vendor's market because it wasn't the "official bear flag," I courageously just kept going. Even my life failures I have turned into spiritual statements of love. Other than make the graphic, what risk did you take the put the symbol out there and take all the ridicule I did? People really hated me for a long time.

    So, 20 years later, I ask the bear community, who made the bear flag? The wisdom of the universe created it through me. You helped and I'm grateful for that. Bob, I'll never forget what you did. And Walter, you were a horrible father, but you did this gift for me before you died.


    Be not angry or bitter over the object, but look at the bitter and angry mind. Resentment comes from anger that's past its expiration date. I let go of the bear flag 10 years ago, but I'm proud to have created the idea. I forgive any bitterness because I'm a human being and I fail all the time. My intention in creating this flag was to love the bear community and I feel this flag has created love. Let's stop all this bickering and just sit back and enjoy the flag. It belongs to everyone now.


  2. to me

    Dear Tony,

    It was interesting to read your post, so I thought I would respond since the bear flag will be 20 yrs old this flag day (June 14th, 2015).

    First, I will share some wisdom:

    It is the wise say who asks for help by those he trusts before making a decision.

    I had an idea to make a bear flag. I wanted to put it on a research project for a psychology project at Mary Baldwin. Bob Nicholson bought me a box of crayons. I'm not a graphic artist. I'm a visionary of ideas. This flag was an idea I just couldn't get out of my mind.

    I scanned the colored piece and asked Paul to help me put it into a graphic. I understand, after reading the internet how bitter Paul seems to be about not getting enough credit for creating the flag. He never talked to me about his dissatisfaction. He just told the world.

    Here is what I know:

    1-If I hadn't gone to Paul to ask him for help, would he have created any graphic designs for any kind of flag representing the bear community? I came to him for help. I didn't know this was going to turn into yet another holy war.

    2- I took the 4 graphics he made and Bob Nicholson sewed the first four templates out of color guard flag material. Those were the flags that he sewed on the sewing machine. That's why I call Bob Bearetsy Ross. He hates it that I call him that, but I know he appreciates the idea. So, is Bob the creator of the bear flag? He sewed the first templates and the 4 nylon flags that came from nylon stock at the fabric store. I gave him a copy, I have a copy, I gave Paul and copy and Lurch (then President of the San Fran Bear Club) a copy. Those are the original flags. Did Paul sew the first flag?

    3- I went to my father, Walter Byrnes. He promised he would buy me my college ring because he didn't buy my high school ring. Because of the price of Gold, he didn't!!!!! So, I went to him and asked him for $1,000 to make good on his promise. If it hadn't been for Walter Byrnes, there would be no bear flag. He financed it. Paul, did you invest in the bear flag other than make some graphics? Walter Byrnes made the bear flag possible.

    4- I took the graphic to the flag company and they said the pantone colors on the graphic that Paul made were not available in any Nylon, so I jus told them to make the flag from the original templates that Bob made. The first set of flags made had Bob's graphic of the paw, not Paul's. It was a pretty rough paw. The flag that flew at the DC eagle was from the first set. The flag company said that they recommended removing the claws from the flag because it would make the flag too expensive to buy. So, I told them to remove the claws. The flag that went on sale had no claws. Paul's versions had claws on them. I later went to a bumper sticker manufacturer and sent them the graphic and the flag. They told me that the pantone colors of the graphic didn't match the flag. I remembered that. I told them to follow the flag colors of the nylon. So, the pantone colors Paul chose for his version of the graphic are not the colors of the bear flag today. The colors he chose weren't available or practical to sell a flag.
    So, again, Paul, you made a graphic. I had the flag made. The paw we used came from the back cover of American Bear Magazine on someone's butt!!!!!! The paw actually belongs to American Bear Magazine if the truth be told.