The fourth Mr Gay World contest took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday. This was the first time that the contest included black African participants, whose involvement brought its own fraught set of problems.
The title was taken by Andreas Derleth, a German man who lives in New Zealand and who beat 21 other contestants.
The Zimbabwean representative, Taurai Zhanje, had to withdraw from the event after his family were pressured by his country’s government over the issue.
Coenie Kukkuk, the contest’s director in Africa said, “There was relentless pressure on the delegate from Zimbabwe to withdraw. His family was followed by agents of the regime in Zimbabwe. His mother is employed by the government, she surely would have lost her job. And with 80 per cent unemployment, she was looking after a lot of people.”
The Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, who is studying in South Africa, was disinherited by his family after a radio station in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, announced his intention to participate.
The contest has been won by South Africans twice before, though both were white. This year’s South African candidate, Lance Weyer, is an elected local councillor for the opposition Democratic Alliance in the coastal SA city of East London.
Mr Weyer praised his country for supporting gay rights in forums such as the UN Human Rights Council, and not least in the face of opposition from many other African countries.The contrast between the rest of the continent and South Africa is vast: there, gay rights are enshrined in the constitution, and gay men and lesbians can legally marry and adopt.
From the stage, Mr Weyer said: “We need to be working with those governments to educate them. You can’t just decide that you’re going to support certain rights and not others.”
Many gay black South Africans still suffer discrimination and attacks. Lesbians have been the target of “corrective rapes”, in which their attackers claim the rape is an attempt to “cure” their homosexuality.
Most of the contestants came from Europe and the Americas, with no representatives from the Muslim world and very few from Asia.
While many might see Mr Gay World as frivolous, Mr Kukkuk said such contests can be a force for change: “It’s the search for a global [gay] ambassador who can represent human rights. Attractive men yes, but with a purpose.”
Discussing the case of Mr Hailu, the Ethiopian contestant, Mr Kukkuk said, “there was never a talk or discussion or debate about gay issues [in the country] before. Now there is.”