This April Johannesburg, South Africa will welcome a host of talented gay men including, for the first time in the competition’s running, three black representatives from countries within Africa. Mr. Zimbabwe, sadly, will not be one of them.
Homosexuality is still criminalized in the countries these men hail from. Not only will this year’s competition afford an opportunity to represent one’s nation, for these men it will also be a chance to advocate the rights of gay individuals unjustly penalized on their home soil.
Already a billboard placed in a highly visible area in Johannesburg has been met with a hoard of attention, both good and bad. The billboard features the faces of Mr. Gay South Africa 2010 Charl Van den Berg and current title holder Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 Francois Nel.
"Africa needs a great deal of attention in terms of the advancement of LGTBI rights, and it would have been very favorable to have full representation of the African Continent in the competition," Nel stated in a recent release. "But nevertheless my thoughts are in complete agreement with the response from the Mr. Gay World directors, that even just entering the competition is already a very brave and commendable achievement."
Delegates in the Mr. Gay World Competition act as ambassador and spokesperson for their country, encouraging a greater acceptance of the LGBQT community and shedding light on various local and international issues and causes.
"I wish Taurai [Mr. Gay Zimbabwe] all the best in future endeavors, and want to congratulate him on the brave achievement of entering the competition, especially seeing that his home country does not yet apply equal human rights," Nel says. "We hope that we can advance the progress of the last years’ achievements in terms of LGTBI rights advancement by having the full quota representing when Mr. Gay World takes place in Johannesburg in April. "
A ‘full quota’ means that a search for a fourth delegate from Africa is still being conducted.
Thomas Egli will be representing Canada this year in South Africa. Born and raised in Calgary, he still considers ‘cow town’ his home, but moved to Vancouver after his first year of university to pursue an exciting career in marine biology.
"In fact, from now until immediately before flying to Johannesburg, I’ll be underwater surveying for sea cucumbers in coastal northern British Columbia," Egli says. "I’ll be going from living on a small fishing boat without a toilet for ten days to sharing space in a lovely South African resort with 25 delegates from all over the world. Never a dull moment in my life."
Despite being deservingly jovial toward his upcoming adventure, Egli is keeping both Taurai and his family somberly in his thoughts.
"I can only imagine the fear that they are experiencing right now from the backlash resulting from him winning the Mr. Gay Zimbabwe competition," he says. "The queer rights situation in much of Africa is alarming, and Zimbabwe is no exception."
"Homosexuality is not only feared, but it is illegal and punishable by long prison sentences. Sadly, the Mugabe government is instrumental in preaching messages of intolerance toward the gay community and same-sex marriage in Zimbabwe, claiming that they are Western values that should be shunned."
"Learning that Taurai chose to withdraw from Mr. Gay World as a result of him and his family being threatened only highlights the main goal of the competition. Here, in North America, the queer community faces challenges, but gay people in Africa and other parts of the world are still fighting for basic human rights. "
"I am proud to be part of a community that strives to teach acceptance in a modern, inclusive world."
Heading up to the competition Egli has been doing his research.
"One of the first countries in the world to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation, South Africa has seen some sweeping changes since the end of Apartheid," he says. "I feel honoured to be going to such an important and fascinating part of the world."
This is Egli’s first time embarking on an opportunity like Mr. Gay World, and it is one he is not taking lightly. He is already planning a realm of projects he can take on upon his return to Vancouver to help raise awareness on queer issues both locally and worldwide.
"Once the competition is over, I hope to be coming back to Canada with a renewed understanding of the struggles faced daily by people like me in other countries," he says. "Although in Canada the homosexual community has come a long way to being respected and accepted, there is still some work to be done, particularly in regards to issues of trans peoples."
Beginning April 8 four days of intense competition including runway fashion, photo, and sport challenges will ensue in Johannesburg.
"I know it will be a very special time and experience for [this year’s hopefuls]," Nil says. "...especially because there is still such a journey for the advancement of LGTBI rights in Africa."
"The win is in participation."
For more information on the event visithttp://www.mrgayworld.org