The Cornell Big Red Bear is the mascot of Cornell University sports teams and attends not just sports events, but also alumni and other gatherings.

Cornell Big Red Bear at event

The person inside the suit does not need to be male, but a controversy is brewing on campus as to whether the Bear should exhibit “male heterosexual” behavior:

Last month, Samuel Naimi ’16 attended tryouts for the Big Red Bears Club, which recruits volunteers to be the Big Red Bear, Cornell’s mascot. But what club members said at the tryouts soon made Naimi, who prefers to go by the pronoun “they,” realize they might not fit the role.

The Big Red Bear must always act like a “heterosexual man” and “approach only women,” one of the members of the Big Red Bear Club said at the meeting, according to Naimi.

The members were explaining what the mascots can and cannot do in costume, which included restrictions such as not holding babies, according to Naimi.

The comment that the mascot must act like a “heterosexual man” made them feel “extremely uncomfortable,” Naimi said. “They’re supposed to be representing the diverse Cornell community.”

The Big Red Bears Club neither denied nor confirmed that the incident occurred. The club released a statement saying it “by no means sets a standard for gender or mannerisms of the bear.” At the same time, it cannot assure that the comments did not take place.

“We cannot control the words of all our members in their individual discussions of the bear,” the statement read. The club will ensure that similar comments will not be made in the future, according to the statement. “We take this type of accusation very seriously and will be looking into the incident to ensure that if it did indeed occur, a similar one will not happen in the future,” the statement said.

Naimi, however, said the situation escalated as the meeting progressed.

After the comment about the bear’s heterosexual role was made, Naimi said they told a friend that they felt uncomfortable and that they wanted to leave.

….Naimi said they felt “marginalized, not being allowed to represent [their] identity.” The comment trivialized identities of the LGBTQ community, Naimi said. “It’s as if our identities are not serious, as if our identities are jokes and not part of the norm,” Naimi said.

Naimi, a facilitator at CU Gay-Straight Alliance, discussed the incident at one a the GSA meetings following the event. “I think everyone [at the GSA meeting] expressed some form of anger or expressed that they were upset,” Naimi said.