The winner of the Mr Gay Europe competition was crowned yesterday in the Polish city of Poznan, despite hundreds of protesters turning out to make their views on LGBT+ people heard.
Enrique Doleschy, a 30-year-old German contestant, beat six other finalists to win the crown in the 12th annual edition of the competition.
“As long as there’s one person feeling like this, we need competitions like this to bring out the best in people and to force them, to drive them, to be better for each other,” Doleschy told AFP.
This year’s competition also marked the first year that a trans contestant entered the competition, with Niels Jansen from Denmark crowned as the first runner-up.
Tore Aasheim, President of Mr Gay Europe, said that the event is “not a beauty contest.”
“We are looking for genuine real-life role-models for our LGBT communities across Europe and we are honoured by the fact that a trans person wanted and felt comfortable enough to take part. Niels proved himself to be a positive and significant addition to the group of delegates.”
LGBT+ activists in Poland continue to fight for equality, however polls suggest most people in the country do not support them.
A 2014 poll found that 70% of Poles felt that same-sex sexual activity was “morally unacceptable.” However, this was down from 89% in 2005, indicating that public opinion is changing.
The country lags behind most of western Europe on LGBT+ rights, with same-sex marriage and adoption still illegal. They have also refused to recognise transgender people.
Poland made progress in recognising LGBT+ people in 2011 when a trans woman, Anna Grodzka, and an openly gay man, Robert Biedron, made history by being sworn into the Polish Parliament.
However, the pro-Catholic Law and Justice Party rose to power in 2015, which Polish LGBT+ activists saying hate crimes and hate speech have increased since then.
According to the annual Rainbow Europe survey by ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, Poland scored just 18 percent on LGBT rights.