(HN, April 9, 2012) - A 32-year-old New Zealand manager for a chain of stationery stores, won the title of Mr. Gay World during the final competition that ended late Sunday at the Gold Reef City resort in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The grand finale was hosted by local stars Soli Philander and Cathy Specific, who were joined onstage by the group African Umoja, and international performers such as Ukraine's top pop star, Kamaliya and guest artist Baby M from Japan, as well as local stars Terrence Bridgett and Alexander Steyn.
Andreas Derleth, 32, a German man who lives in New Zealand won the competition which included 24 other delegates from all over the world including: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. Only three of them are from Africa and it's also the first time black Africans took part.
Founded in 2008, the Mr. Gay World competition was created as`a positive environment for gay men to share their stories. The winner would not only have the inner beauty of confidence, self-assurance, charisma and natural leadership abilities, but would also take care of his physical beauty.'
Prizes included $25,000 in travel vouchers to enable the winner to spread his message around the world.
Gay rights have been under pressure in many parts of the globe recently - Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East - but primarily in African nations where gay rights activists have been threatened and killed and where dozens of countries have passed laws banning homosexuality.
Of particular concern in recent years have been attacks on lesbians sometimes called "corrective rapes."
Prominent African politicians ridicule gays and minor politicians grab headlines by proposing even tougher anti-gay laws.
Therefore, many of the African participants faced the most intense discrimination and prejudice, though the location of the event took place in South Africa - the only country on the continent where gay marriages are allowed.
The bill of rights adopted after apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994 explicitly bans `discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation'. Same-sex couples can marry and adopt children in South Africa.
But relentless government pressure on the Zimbabwean delegate, Taurai Zhanje, forced him to withdraw from the competition fearing the publicity was making life difficult for his mother.
Namibia's representative, Wendelinus Hamutenya, was attacked in early December and landed in hospital but his family accompanied him to the airport for a warm send-off when he left for the competition. "Bring the trophy home," Hamutenya's mother said to him.
Though he lost, a disappointed Hamutenya said he would nonetheless return to Namibia to fight "for gay rights and human rights."
Since becoming Mr. Gay Namibia, Hamutenya has lobbied for a repeal of his country’s anti-sodomy law. And he says, politicians have been receptive to his arguments.
The Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, is a student in South Africa and after his candidacy was announced on Ethiopian radio a media storm broke out and his father cut off all communications.
It wasn't just African gays who faced difficulties this year however. The Chinese contestant was unable to come to Johannesburg because of anti-gay pressure there, organizers said.
Mr. Gay World includes an essay test on the history of the gay rights movement. But the swim suit competition counts for more, according to the judges’ handbook. The seven judges from around the world include journalists and an actor.
"We look for the best man, whether he’s white or black or any other color," said Tore Aasheim, one of the Mr. Gay World organizers, adding he hoped more contestants from Africa would participate in future contests.