Don’t get me wrong—I love a parade of hunks. Dressed. Undressed. Everything in between. Beauty pageants, however, have always struck me as a bit pointless. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all, making it a bit silly deciding if one adorable man looks better than another. In the ladies’ competitions they hit some bombshell with a tough question designed to test her personality, and she falls to pieces as we hear about how she's going to save the dolphins and establish world peace. How then, in a men's competition, would you justify choosing a muscle-bound hunk over a pretty twink who only ever uses the gym as a cruising venue?
Sunday evening saw the crowning of Andreas Derleth, a strapping 32-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, as the new Mr Gay World. By all accounts, Andreas is a big, solid, stud muffin. Sufficiently statuesque that he even seemed to tower over his runner-up, Lance Weyer, himself a butch-but-adorable bloke representing host country South Africa.
Given his rather effortless manner in both skimpy swimsuit and formal evening wear, you might presume Andreas took the title thanks to his suitability to appear on the next cover of Instinct (well, why not?). He's got so much going on, physically, that other men want. During the competition, in fact, one of the MCs, gay South African actor Terrence Bridgett, looked up at the beefcake and simply said: “There’s just so much of you!” Andreas certainly knows where his physical strengths lie; when the delegates first appeared on stage—in gay-inspired "fantasy" versions of their national costume—he came out as a rugby player, a look which won over the predominantly South African crowd.
The New Zealander's rugby kit wasn't the most spectacular of the night—the prize for the best national costume went to the cutie from the Philippines, who seemed ready to headline Mardi Gras in his extendable wings and glittery headgear. My personal choice for the best national costume would have to be the smooth-skinned Fin who came dressed in nothing but a towel, suggesting that he was ready for a steamy session in the sauna.
Getting naked wasn't a struggle for Andreas, though. He did win the award for looking best in swimwear. On top of that, he took the trophy for the sports challenge (an event held earlier in the week), and the prize for the best panel interview.
While on the surface, the parade of dream-beaux may have seemed like a showcase for some of the hottest lads in the gay universe (no one shows up at this competition looking anything less than handsome), in truth the Mr Gay World event is really about unearthing a spokesman for the LGBTI community. Even with all his outwardly discernible attributes, it wasn’t the New Zealander’s ripped physique, nor his sporting prowess, nor even his all-round sweet-and-cheerful disposition that earned him the main title. It definitely isn’t a beauty pageant, and while being pleasant and likable was important, the congeniality prize went to ever-smiling Thom Goderie, the 21-year-old from the Netherlands.
Essentially, the Mr Gay World organizers were looking to crown someone who can serve as a positive role model for the gay community while being an ambassador who represents LGBTI issues globally. His responsibilities will include promoting the visibility of gay rights and bringing media attention to the cause of those who are denied their freedoms because of sexual orientation.
This may not seem critical in parts of the world where gay rights do exist and are protected, but for many gay people across Africa and the Middle East, sexual orientation can be life-threatening. While host nation South Africa is known to have some of the most proactive gay rights legislation in the world, the delegate from neighboring Zimbabwe was forced to withdraw from the competition due to terrible pressure placed on his family by Robert Mugabe's notoriously homophobic regime. The competition's first ever black African delegates, Wendelinus Hamutenya from Namibia and Robel Hailu from Ethiopia, both suffered as a result of their decision to participate. Wendelinus was the victim of a homophobic attack which landed him in hospital, while Robel was disinherited by his wealthy family and has been the victim of harassment and threats.
The fact that the two men took part at all has gone some way to throw media attention on the widely neglected issue of gay rights in Africa.
Sunday's event also sought to directly address the plight of gay people living without protection by the law in their home countries. While the first few hours of the evening had the lads parading in a succession of costumes and outfits (some less flattering than others) designed to show off their physique and (in the swimwear category) intimate details of their anatomy, the final rounds had the remaning 10 delegates go through to final rounds answering some tough questions, most of which looked at serious issues facing the gay community today.
It seemed appropriate that the final question—put to the five Adonises who made it through to the very last round—dealt with the recent walk-out by African and Muslim UN delegates during a discussion around gay rights. The final five (amongst whom were the delegates from the Netherlands, France and the U.S.) fought hard for the top spot, coming up with some heartfelt and intelligent answers, suggesting that any one of them might have comfortably worn the crown.
But the statuesque New Zealander held out as the most convincing all-rounder, and spoke with a gentle authority that made him seem a natural ambassador for what is ultimately a humanitarian cause. First runner-up, South African Lance Weyer, who is a politician working in local government, made a convincing case for his second place, although he might have early on lost a few points thanks to an awful national costume. Third spot went to Frenchman Remy Freyaville; New Yorker Kevin Power did the U.S. proud in fourth place, and fifth runner-up was another audience favorite, Thom Goderie of the Netherlands.
The fifth annual Mr Gay World will happen in Antwerp, Belgium, in conjunction with WorldOutGames 2013.
(Photos courtesy of Mr Gay World)