The 2012 Mr. Gay World finalists

The Mr. Gay World 2012 contest got underway in Johannesburg with a press conference on Wednesday, introducing the 22 finalists and the competition’s focus on LGBT rights in Africa to the press.

Held at the Fairway Hotel and Spa, the event was attended by both LGBT media as well as local and international mainstream outlets such as, The Times, AP and AFP.

“We’re excited to bring our competition to South Africa – the rainbow nation,” said Eric Butter, President of Mr. Gay World. “Together we can make things better for the international LGBT community.”

Coenie Kukkuk, Director Africa for Mr. Gay World, emphasised that the event is not a beauty pageant but rather aims to find a role model or global ambassador for LGBT people.

“A role model who can bring hope to young LGBT people out there,” he said, adding that this year the focus of Mr. Gay World is on the plight of LGBT Africans.

He noted that homosexuality is criminalised in some form or the other in 37 African nations. “The only way to change this is through education and bringing knowledge,” he said. “Homophobia is learned. To be homosexual is natural, it is not natural to be homophobic.”

Kukkuk confirmed that the delegate from Zimbabwe, Taurai Zhanje, who dropped out of the competition in late February, did so because of “relentless pressure” on his family. “His family was followed by agents of the state and his mother faced losing her job”.

He also praised the Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, for taking part, revealing that he had been disowned by his family after coming out.

Through the press, Kukkuk said, the competition hopes to shamelessly highlight LGBT issues. He used as an example, the recent discussion of the competition on Ethiopian national radio. “This was the first time that a LGBT issue or topic was discussed or debated on the station,” said Kukuk.

“The very existence of homosexual people has been denied by leaders in many African and Middle-East countries,” he added.

Answering a question from a reporter, Mr. Gay U.S.A, Keven Power, who is a school teacher, called on children to be taught not to have homoprejudice.

“Trying to eradicate homophobia must start when kids are young. This should start in the school system,” he said.

Mr. Gay South Africa, Lance Weyer, spoke out against ‘corrective rape’ in South Africa, quoting figures suggesting that ten lesbians are raped every week in the Cape Town area alone.

“The police need to be educated. Lesbian women are too afraid to report their rapes to the police because they are often preyed on by the police. They forget that they are our servants; civil servants.”

The subject of China’s participation also came up. Last year, the Mr. Gay China event was shut down by the authorities. Despite this, Muyi Andiao took part in the 2011 Mr. Gay World contest for China and came fourth.

Noemi Alberto, Director Asia for Mr. Gay World, told reporters that there is no official delegate from China this year as the Mr. Gay China organiser had been “reprimanded” by the state.

“He has been advised not to take part in Mr. Gay World,” she said, adding ominously that “we have not had any communication with him or last year’s representative”.

The delegate from Hong Kong, Jimmy Wong, offered “to extend my representation to the rest of China”.

After the press conference, the finalists were whisked off to a game lodge. They will participate in a number of events this week, culminating in the awarding of the Mr. Gay World 2012 title on Sunday at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg.

Tickets are available here.

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