According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates in the United States have increased substantially over the past two decades, with a 30% increase – 13.5 per 100,000 people – in the rate of death by suicide in the United States between 2000 and 2016. Similarly, the United Kingdom has reported it’s highest increase in suicide rates since 2002, with 11.2 suicides per 100,000 people in 2018 – an 11.8% increase from 2017.
Both the US and the UK have called particular attention to the rates of young people, aged 10 to 24, who have committed suicide. Those in the LGBTQ community are most at risk, as they have been reported to be five times more likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual peers. The US-based Trevor Project has also reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death in this age group.
With these alarming suicide rates all over the world, it is easy to understand why Robert Benedetto, Mr. Unlimited Cub 2019, has chosen to use his platform to advocate for suicide and mental health awareness in the LGBTQIA+ community.
I recently had a chance to speak with Robert about the Unlimited competition, his own battles with mental health, and the importance of an open and accepting community.
KJ: Hi Robert. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
RB: Hi Kyle! I moved to New York City in my mid 20s and found my place in the gay community with the Gotham Knights Rugby Team. I found my way onto leadership in that organization and what I achieved there are some of my proudest accomplishments.
I watched guys who have never played a sport in their life find a community that let them experience something that had been off limits for so long. The team helped me realize I could do anything and I’m excited to bring those lessons to the opportunities ahead of me.
KJ: When did you begin identifying as a cub? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a cub?
RB: I was cub when I first saw Mike Piazza’s classic 90’s goatee. Took me till I was about 13 to realize what it really meant. The day I heard the term cub I latched on. I’ve always been big and very early became hairy.
It sounds silly to say porn made me feel accepted, but waiting 10-15 minutes for a 20 second clip of hairy dudes hooking up made me realize that other guys were sacrificing their computer’s safety to see people like me too.
I made it to my first bear week around my 30th birthday this year. Being there made me finally realize I am attractive. When I’m with the bear/cub community I feel comfortable.
KJ: What made you enter the Competition?
RB: I kind of fell into it. I was representing Gotham Knights Rugby at the Urban Bear Street fair and they had a pop up pageant. I had enough beers in me to compete. I went up, felt myself, and took the crown. From there I was approached about JR’s Unlimited. I was nervous about participating in a national pageant, but my Sash Daddy, Dan Jiménez. had a great conversation with me and lifted me up to realize that I could actually do it.
KJ: That’s great! What was your favorite part about taking part in the competition?
RB: It was the massive culture shock. This was my first time in any pageant or contest situation. The love and kindness in the Unlimited family was amazing. I learned so much about bear and cub families. This is a whole world I didn’t know about but I’m so glad to be a part of it.
KJ: What is your platform?
RB: My platform and mission is to raise money for the LGBTQIA++ National Suicide Hotline. I spent this last year in the worst depression of my life. I relied on this asset a few times. My first time calling the hotline was in early November 2019 – the first of several. The hotline is underfunded and understaffed and it truly needs more support. My obstinate personality is the reason I am still here.
The moment I mentioned I was gay on the suicide hotline I was transferred to a department that was understaffed. I got through a few times but plenty of times I sat on hold for hours. I laid in bed crying thinking about how I couldn’t get help and I how I need to fight to make sure that this doesn’t happen to somebody else. This organization does good work when it can. It needs help to be able to do more.
KJ: That’s amazing, and such a great cause! So many people in the LGBTQ community struggle with mental health. In what ways do you think you can help to promote growth or change in the leather and/or bear/cub communities?
RB: I’m not sure. I’m still relatively new to the community at large. I just know I can be myself. I’m an effeminate cub that works in traditionally masculine career and plays a masculine sport. I’m two sides of a coin and am unapologetically myself. I find the bear community to be very welcoming, but I have the privilege of looking like most cubs.
I love when our community opens up to everyone. It doesn’t matter your race, gender identity, age, body shape or how much hair you have. If you see yourself as a bear or cub you are welcome. You label yourself how you feel comfortable. Labels shouldn’t be strict anywhere but porn searches.
KJ: What is the most important thing about the bear/cub community for you?
RB: It’s a place I feel comfortable. It’s one of the friendlier places in the gay world. We kiki and throw shade, but we are always up for a beer and burger too. So many places in the gay world make me feel uncomfortable and shy. When I’m at a bear bar, my shirt is off and I’m ready to talk to strangers. I’m one of the shyest extraverts. I get super nervous with new people. but in the bear community I have a chance to be myself.
KJ: What are your plans for your title year?
RB: I’m excited to continue the Unlimited tradition. I’ve been able to do a bunch of fundraisers already and I’m excited to host my own. I want to do good and I want to showcase the organization that has given me the chance to do that. JR’s Unlimited is an amazing group of people and I can’t wait to show people what we are about.
KJ: Will you go on to enter other competitions once your title year is done?
RB: Probably. I’m a planner, and having something to organize and prepare for is one of my favorite things. I spent days and hours on spreadsheets alone getting ready for Unlimited Cub. There is a rush in preparation and planning for me so I will definitely be looking for another goal.
KJ: Finally, what’s your advice for anyone entering the competition next year?
RB: It sounds cliché, but be yourself. Take the preparation seriously and make sure you are ready. If you do that, then you don’t have to worry. I went in knowing what I was going to do. I identified what my weaknesses were and made sure to find a way to inject my strengths into them. Do what you do well and the rest will follow.