THE 11TH MR GAY WORLD DELEGATES WOW CAPE TOWN WITH THEIR PROJECTS IN ALL CORNERS OF THE GLOBE, THEIR KIND HEARTS, AND YES, THEIR SMOKING HOT LOOKS!
I count myself lucky to have attended two editions of Mr Gay World in my two-and-a-half years of working in gay media. Not only because I have met over forty of the world’s most hopeful and inspirational gay men who have instilled in me hope and valuable life lessons, but also because I got to see all of them in speedos!
This is where I would say I am only joking, but who would I be kidding? Arriving at the President Hotel in Bantry Bay and catching my first glimpse of the delegates after carefully watching all of their campaign videos, I could see that the week would not be a disappointment.
Rubin, who was head judge for the competition for the second year in a row, kept a low profile the first night as we scoped out the contestants, making our first assessments before they knew who we were. We asked the organisers and chaperones what they thought of the delegates so far and everyone said that this was a special group of men, and that there was no telling who would come out on top. The competition is gruelling and consists of a six-day programme, jam packed from 07h00 to midnight every day leading up to the grand finale.
The day we landed in Cape Town, the group had been out in Khayelitsha learning about the area, its people, and the daily hardships they face. If travelling is good for one thing, it is gaining perspective, and this excursion was definitely an eye-opener for the group. This trip, organised by Cape Town Tourism, also consisted of a triathlon sports challenge which was won by Germany’s Marcel Danner.
Speaking of Marcel, this absolute dream of a young man gave me a smile on the stairs of the Hotel early in the week which melted my heart and pegged him as one of the cutest in the group. Luckily I wasn’t judging, because I would probably struggle not picking favourites!
It being my first day, I was too excited to go to bed, especially after meeting the organiser of Mr Gay Australia and Mr Gay New Zealand, Tony Richens. Of course, the two of us have been friends online for a while, as Mr Gay Australia won the competition in 2018. Tony also owns the online gay magazine Gay Nation with his business partner.
Anyway, I was out to see an old friend for a quick hello only to get a message from Tony, telling me that he too was too excited for slumber. And how could I say no?
I took him on a hushed introduction of Cape Town’s gay scene, first to Café Manhattan, a must-visit gay bar, and then for a couple of drinks at the newly refurbished Crew Bar, an institution almost as old as Table Mountain. I neglected to tell Rubin about how late exactly I stayed out the first night, as I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t up to the next day’s activities. That, plus the next time we went out, he joined us to show off his hard-earned ‘80s and ‘90s dance moves and remembered exactly why clubbing in Cape Town is hard to shut down once entered into.
The Wednesday, due to heavy mist in the Mother City, the delegates’ boat trip had to be cancelled, so they rehearsed for the finale and started on personal interviews with the panel of judges instead. But that part of the day survives as a distant memory, because in the afternoon it was photoshoot time. Cue the drooling.
Our Gay Pages cover photographer, Reinhard Janse van Rensburg, had the challenging job of taking a group photo as well as tasking himself with the very technical and difficult photograph you see gracing the cover of this edition. It is one of the most beautiful and unique covers we have ever had, and certainly the first group photo, with ten of the finalists squeezed in nice and snuggly. This is the winter edition, after all, and what better way to keep warm than with body heat?
David Sharp took care of the swimwear photography, which certainly was not a warm experience in the cold weather, but still an afternoon engrained in all our memories forever!
The entire group was invited to Beefcakes Cape Town for a night of pink flamingos, burgers, and one hell of a drag show. Now, I haven’t frequented Beefcakes in a long time, as I feel there are just too many bachelorette’s parties and screaming straight women, but this show was like a gay experience from the ’80s, of which I have heard nothing but fabulous nostalgic stories!
Thursday morning I had a chance to sit one-on-one with each delegate to create a fun little behind-the-scenes video, asking them what their spirit animals are and why. They came up with some funny and creative answers, but Mr Gay Finland’s answer that his was a wolf, because they hunt in packs and are not to be messed with, delivered in his thick accent and serious manner, was a definite winner! Check it out on www.gaypagessa.com.
The next day, just as I posted the video, I was shocked at the scepticism that gay men and perhaps the larger community have about the delegates and the competition itself.
“This is why I am ashamed to be associated with the gay community. Mr Gay World is supposed to be about finding role models and activists that play a role in uplifting the gay community in a positive way. I am disgusted,” commented one gay South African on the video.
I was enraged and promptly responded that he should brush up on his knowledge of exactly what the delegates have achieved in their own countries and what past winners of this competition have done in its eleven-year history.
For the sceptics out there, let us run through what exactly I am on about. The winner of this year’s competition, Janjep Carlos from the Philippines, is an activist and fierce online voice advocating for awareness and the treatment of mental health in the gay community, which anyone who reads gay news would know is one of the most pressing issues we face around the globe. He believes that being well-informed about these challenges can help “turn this illness into wellness”.
First runner up, Francisco Alvarado lives in Madrid, is a medical specialist and he does work which includes campaigning for gay rights in the workplace, concentrating on issues such as bullying, HIV stigma, family diversity, and the elderly gay community.
Oliver Pusztai, Mr Gay Hungary and second runner up, was recognised as the best blogger in Hungary in 2018 and campaigns against sexism, racism, and homophobia through harnessing the power of communication. He also won the social media challenge and online vote with his impressive media reach.
Raphael Dos Anjos from Brazil has a master’s degree in translation studies and works as a teacher and sign language interpreter. With #MyPrideMyRight he campaigns for gay rights in his country and other places in the world where a lot of work is yet to be done. Josh Rimer from Canada lives in Vancouver and has a huge following on his YouTube channel as well as on the Canadian television channel OutTV. Josh is passionate about travelling and learning about gay communities around the world and using his media platforms to raise awareness, do charity work, fundraising and more. Not to mention his plans to bring a gay refugee to Canada in honour of their next Mr Gay Canada competition.
Rad Mitic from Australia, runs forums called #InItTogether, which aims at discussing issues that cripple the gay community, including anxiety, depression, body image and racism. “I have lost a lot of friends to suicide,” he said, which is one of his reasons for taking part and furthering his work.
Carlos Navarro from Chile is a fashion designer that runs his own clothing label which he uses to carry out his social campaign called “Manifesto”, a range of fashion items that speak about empowerment, HIV prevention and gay pride.
Marcel Danner from Germany lives in Berlin and uses his online voice to campaign against political inequality, mainly through his work that aims to change the fact that men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate blood in many parts of the world.
Tiger Shigetake from Japan won the Social Responsibility challenge (as well as Mr Congeniality) with the work he has done clearing misconceptions about the LGBT-community in Japanese schools. Working with Human Rights Watch and the UN he fought the Japanese Ministry of Education to gain more resources to help gay kids in schools who have been stigmatised and misunderstood. Due to interruptions from the Japanese government, their work did not carry fruit, which prompted Tiger to start #UnspokenJapan, which is an accessible platform which aims to empower the people when their leaders do not want to enforce change. All of the delegates speak about their work on www.mrgayworld.com.
But of course, it is not all just work work work, there was quite a lot of merriment to go around. Visiting the fabulous purple palace on Bree Street, the upmarket drag dinner theatre Gate69, was a highlight in the week’s programme. From original scripts and live singing, expensive drag dripping with elegance, and food to die for, I cannot wait to go back again to see more of these queens.
Friday night was the President’s Ball and fundraising auction, where Alan Ford auctioned off items that each delegate had brought from their home countries. Some of the stories behind these objects had everyone in the room in tears, and most importantly a lot of moola was raised for the LGBT charities supported by Mr Gay World.
To both Rubin and my relief, the day of the show was rather relaxed; more so for us than the contestants, as they were rehearsing for the big night while we lounged by the President Hotel pool cocktail bar, unable to believe that the week had already flown by.
We were astonished at the line outside of City Hall when we pulled up and how quickly more than ten boxes of Gay Pages were grabbed up by the crowd! The show was spectacular, something that could have been the gay version of Moulin Rouge, had there been a bit more singing!
The boys graced the stage in teeny tiny swimwear and underwear looks from Niku Underwear, they walked in their loud and flamboyant national costumes, and finally in smouldering formal wear. I looked back at the crowd at one point, and all I could see were wide eyes of appreciation. Appreciation for their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, as ma Ru would say. Janjep’s question, part of a series of questions posed to the finalists to wrap up the final scores, was, “What would you do with the title, if you win Mr Gay World?” To which he replied, “With such a title comes the tremendous role of being the next global ambassador for the LGBT community. I will stand for inclusivity, understanding, tolerance, and most importantly mutual respect for every individual regardless of religion, race, background or gender identity.” He continued to explain that he would continue his work helping those in the gay community who suffer from mental illness.
Tamara Dey and the boyband 5West performed on the night as the final deliberations were taking place. The winner was announced just after the stroke of midnight and Janjep Carlos and his rather large entourage from the Philippines went through the roof, and so did everyone else after a long, tiring, but inspirational and unforgettable week!
Unforgettable is the right word, as each instalment of Mr Gay World is an earmarked page in the book of gay and lesbian history. Each a step towards equality everywhere. Each a beacon of hope to the young and the persecuted. Each well worth the effort to support.
I do hope that wherever on this earth the next Mr Gay World takes place, they appreciate having the name associated with their country as much as South Africa has enjoyed it four times in the eleven years it has existed.
Even our president, Cyril Ramaphosa sent out a tweet at the beginning of Mr Gay World, “On behalf of all South Africans, I wish to extend a warm welcome to delegates who have arrived in South Africa for the 2019 Mr Gay World event. South Africa is pleased to host Mr Gay World delegates during #FreedomMonth.”
It brought tears to my eyes, and from Gay Pages we do believe this was not just a stunt for votes before the elections, as Ramaphosa has been vocal about his support for gay rights in the past. We are very proud!