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Interview with Dorothy Awards Honoree Joe Mannetti

While Joe Mannetti has only been in Connecticut for a few years, he’s made an indelible mark in the community, as a volunteer and fundraiser. Former Center Co-President Tom Donato’s latest honoree interview turns the spotlight on someone who not only isn’t afraid of the spotlight, as an actor, has had success in the spotlight!

 

  1. Tell us something about your background.

I was born in Michigan while my dad was a student at the college there, and I was raised in New York where he worked as a college professor of history for forty plus years. So, despite the fact that I lived for twenty-four glorious years in Los Angeles, my roots have always been on the east coast. My relatives and family are all pretty much Connecticut locals. But I was not raised in New England; I never lived here until relocating to the Nutmeg State in July of 2010. I studied to become an actor at H.B. Studios in New York City, and I majored in drama studies at S.U.N.Y. College at Purchase before heading out west to pursue the Hollywood dream. I acted in some low-budget film stuff and television in minor roles. But, while I was chasing an acting career in Tinsel Town, I started volunteering at various LGBT organizations. I enjoyed it, and that lead to getting more involved with our communities by entering some contests and using the attention that I received with some Bear titles that I won to become a successful fundraiser for various causes. I placed my focus on support services for people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ youth, and transgender people. I was named “Best Bear Fundraiser” in an international poll (reference to my five “Bear” titles, including Mr. International Daddy Bear 2009), and I was honored to receive recognition with awards from several other prominent organizations in the Los Angeles area. One of these included the Justice-Love Award from the Metropolitan Community Church in the Valley for “outstanding service to the LGBT community. You have modeled Micah 6:8 ‘to do justice, to love compassion, and walk humbly with God” in 2010.

 

I still actively engage in volunteer work and fundraising. I proudly worked at AIDS Project New Haven as an HIV Outreach Specialist until January of this year. I also continue to work as an actor and a mental health counselor.

 

  1. What is your favorite thing about the “bear” community?

Well, I proudly identify myself as being connected to many communities. I am part of the Latin community. I am now one of the many Gay men who are part of the “over age 50 club.” I am an activist for LGBT rights. I am an actor, fundraiser, and public speaker. I also identify with the Leather communities. But, I think that most people identify me with the Bear community because of my five Bear titles when I was entering contests back in the day. You can see my aging process marked by the titles! I started out as Mr. Southern California Cub 2006. In 2008, I won the Mr. Long Beach Pride Bear/Cub, Mr. Los Angeles Bear, and Mr. Southern California Bear titles. My last title was the Mr. International Daddy Bear title in 2009. I hung up my competition hat after that one. People were branding me a sash queen! In answer to your question, I suppose the thing that I appreciate the most about the Bear community is the spotlight that it offered me. Having those titles, in and of themselves, were not the most important accomplishments. But the attention that they gave me allowed me to promote organizations that support people in our communities with my fundraising and outreach efforts. The support that the Bear community graciously extended to me allowed me to connect with other people in our communities when I initially began my volunteer work and fundraising activities. I learned about the value of working with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Metropolitan Community Church, the International Imperial Court system, and leaders within the Bear, Leather, and Transgender communities. I was named Best Bear Fundraiser in 2009 and 2010. But, none of that would have happened without the people that I met, worked with, and learned from along the way. There were so many others including the Payasos, the LA Band of Brothers, the West Hollywood Cheerleaders, BearsLA, and the Northeast Ursamen who supported my efforts. But, the Bear community got me started with the spotlight and encouragement that they offered me. So, I appreciate that very much. They gave me the initial start that led me to move on with my focus on fundraising and volunteer work that supports people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ youth, and Transgender people. Others helped me too. But, the Bears got me started with the spotlight and support that they offered me. They helped me to feel a profound sense of connection to something bigger than myself. There are lots of things that I like about the people within the Bear communities. But the thing that I like the most about them is their willingness to allow someone like me to celebrate the value and importance of diversity in all of our communities.

 

  1. What brought you to Connecticut?

Honestly, it was initially financial issues that brought me to Connecticut. I did not grow up here. I am not a New England native. I grew up in New York for the first 24 years of my life, and I lived in Los Angeles for the next 24 years starting in 1986. I moved to Connecticut in 2010 because I simply could not afford to stay in LA any longer. I was one of many people who were forced out of the city of angels when the economy started taking a downward spiral. I saw the writing on the wall as I witnessed my peers, colleagues, and friends leaving California one by one starting around 2007. I knew that my finances could not hold up much longer the way things were going with the job market, and Connecticut was where my mother and father lived. So, I made a plea for help, and packed my bags to start all over again closer to them in order to get back on my feet financially. It was a very painful experience for me. I had never planned on leaving LA. It had become my home. But, I had to do something.

 

Thankfully, I met some wonderful people, and I managed to create a life for myself in Connecticut by staying active and reaching out to as many people and organizations as I could out here. It was an opportunity to embrace change, and it taught me a lot about myself and my ability to accept new direction in my life. So, it has been a very empowering experience for me. It also allowed me to re-connect with my father before he died last year. I value that I had the chance to do that with him.

 

  1. What inspires you to be such an outspoken activist?

It was out of my need to try and “fix” things that I perceived were not being confronted or resolved that inspired me to be the one who always blew the proverbial lid off of the garbage pail! I learned to pave my own way. I had to do it for myself, or it would not happen. That is what I learned early on in my life. I also learned to cultivate my own “family” by supporting others whose values and integrity I respected. They became my support system. So, being an outspoken activist stemmed from a need to take care of others as well as myself. I value the positive things that I did experience growing up since they gave me the confidence to march to my own drummer.

 

  1. Can you spill any secrets from the set of “Bear City”, in which you played a character called “Hot Daddy Bear”?

I was cast for a 20 second cameo based on the fact that I had just won the Mr. International Daddy Bear 2009 title. The only real secret about me in connection to “Bear City” is that I was in it at all! My scene is so brief, and it is tagged on at the very end of the movie AFTER all of the credits have finished rolling! So, NOBODY remembers seeing me in the movie! It’s a cute flick with some very attractive and fresh talent. Next question.

 

  1. Speaking of movies, who would play you in the movie of your life?

Mae West, except she is a woman and dead. So, there are some problems with that casting. If you could find a living male version of Gypsy Rose Lee, maybe you could swing it. Personally, I cannot see anyone playing me, including me. Living my life was dramatic enough. Dramatizing it with a movie seems redundant.

 

  1. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

My main hobby is posting shirtless photos of myself on Facebook. I don’t have any spare time.

 

  1. You are a fairly public and well-known member of the community; what LGBT causes are closest to your heart, and why?

The causes that are closest to my heart are supporting services for people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ youth, transgender people, and the value of diversity in society. I still do not see a cure or a vaccine that is readily available or affordable to all people living with HIV/AIDS in the year 2014. I am also concerned that we have stopped talking about sex in a progressive way, and that HIV/AIDS outreach has suffered so many funding cuts today. This, in my opinion, is directly connected to the rising rates of infection with LGBTQ youth in our communities. I also see the push for assimilation, as opposed to embracing the value of diversity, as being connected to all of this as well as bullying, suicide rates among our youth, discrimination that targets them as well as all transgender people, and the hatred of “others” that are not seen as successfully “blending” with the dominant culture in society. So, these causes are near and dear to my heart, because I see all of them as being important and connected.

 

  1. What has been your proudest accomplishment?

I am still waiting to experience it. But, I am very appreciative to have been selected as a Dorothy Awards recipient with Betty Gallo, AIDS Project New Haven (Christopher Cole), and my friend Christine O’Leary. Thank you.

 

  1. Where do you want to be in five years?

I would like to be living in a world where there is a cure and a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, a place where all LGBTQ people can be free of bullying and hate crimes, and where we truly value diversity without feeling forced to blend in order to achieve a sense of acceptance. I would also like to be twenty pounds thinner.

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Harry Walters

February 11, 2014 5:08 am Reply

Congrats on your award my friend, you work tirelessly in the community and I want to say it makes a difference, never stop what your doing, it makes a difference, love ya man

Kenn Hopkins

February 18, 2014 1:25 am Reply

Joe Mannetti is an inspiration!! Thank you for living life OUT LOUD making our world a better place for all.