That the Philippines is a “pageant powerhouse” was stressed by John Fernandez Raspado, who finished his Mr. Gay World 2017 quest at the Yumbo Centrum Square in Maspalomas, Spain last May 11 on the right note. The 36-year-old and 6-feet-2-inch-tall cyberpreneur of health supplements from Baguio City made history by becoming the first-ever Filipino and 100 percent Asian to win the title.
Eyeing to “modernize the image of gay men, and to remove the stigma and discrimination towards the LGBT (community),” Raspado – who was crowned by Roger Gosalbez Pitaluga of Spain – said that the title, more than anything else, “serves as a beacon of hope for the LGBT community.”
Raspado – a graduate of marketing, and who obtained units in post-graduate diploma in business administration at the Saint Louis University in Baguio City – defeated 20 other candidates, including first to fourth runners-up Candido Arteaga, a 27-year-old nurse from Spain; Belgium’s Raf van Puymbroeck, 22, sports education and dance teacher who is also the reigning Mr. Gay Europe; Marco Tornese, a 32-year-old banker from Switzerland; and South Africa’s Alexander Steyn, 35, a licensed architect.
He also pulled off the best performances of a Filipino delegate in Mr. Gay World’s nine-year history, outdistancing his fiercest rivals even before he stepped into the Spanish soil. He maintained a lead in the 21-person online polls, which assured him of the Mr. Gay Online Popularity trophy, catapulting him to the semifinal round.
Mr. Gay World Philippines received four special awards, including Best in Swimwear, Best in Interview, Mr. Gay Social Media and Best in Formal Wear. Raspado’s tuxedo, encrusted with jet black Swarovski crystals, onyx stones with “richly embellished embroidery to its finest”, was created by Leo Almodal, and costs $2,000.
Arteaga, the home court hunk, was chosen Mr. Gay Photogenic and Best in National Costume; Steyn received the Best in Social Media Campaign accolade.
Remnants of the semifinal round were Australia’s David Francis, a 29-year-old property developer; Miguel Pedro Dal Piaz, 34, real estate agent and professional dancer from Austria; Chile’s Juan Pedro Pavez Böhle, a 29-year-old accountant and professional ballroom dancer, recipient of the Mr. Gay Sports Challenge and Mr. Gay Fashion Show awards; Flavio Romero Valdez, 27, professional dancer from Ecuador; and India’s Darshan Mandhana, a 31-year-old painter and human resource professional.
Absent in the semis were Indonesia’s Budi Alamsyah, 29, financial services professional who topped the Mr. Gay World 2017 Written Test; and Mr. Gay Congeniality winner Charlie Tredway of New Zealand, a 33-year-old community outreach staffer for an AIDS foundation who was very open about his HIV positive status.
This year’s Mr. Gay World tilt started with the parade of nations, where the contestants introduced themselves wearing their national costumes. The swimwear and formal wear segments followed next. After the distribution of special awards segment, the delegates were then whittled down to just 10. Raspado was the eighth semifinalist to be called on stage.
There was no question and answer portion during the finals night, a far cry from the previous editions of Mr. Gay World, when there were casual and final interviews that determined the top five finalists, then the four runners-up and the new winner. This time, the 10 semifinalists only paraded on stage in their tuxedos for the final look segment.
But Mr. Gay World follows a “point system” since its inception in 2009, wherein every delegate can earn points for a range of challenges and events where they can put their best foot forward, which take place from the moment all the entrants arrive at the competition.
While waiting for the decision of the judging panel which included Mr. Gay World founder and chief executive Eric Butter and outgoing titleholder Pitaluga, the pageant presenters asked each of the contestants with the same question: “(For you) what is the best part of (this) Mr. Gay World (contest)?” Raspado’s reply: “The best experience I’ve known is knowing all these beautiful people… knowing that we are all together with one heart.”
Aside from taking home the satin sash and €1,000 cash prize (equivalent to P55,242.33), Raspado will also enjoy several perks, such as luxury accommodations in cities of countries he will visit during his reign, modeling portfolio by various fashion photographers around the world, professional representation by the Mr. Gay World Organization, and the opportunity to “inspire and empower gay men across the globe”.
Although he felt he had a shot at the crown, Raspado admitted that among the 20 other candidates, it was Mr. Gay Spain who really made him compete harder, as Arteaga was aiming a back-to-back victory right in his home turf.
While thankful to the people who make up the Mr. Gay World Philippines Organization, especially to Wilbert Tolentino, for their “guidance in my journey to victory, and to those who helped me backstage, and to the other contestants especially to (Misters Gay) Belgium and Venezuela, (who were) my roommates,” Raspado is now eyeing to start his reign by returning to Spain for the World Pride Madrid 2017 (from June 23 to July 2)”, and by asking people to “also join me in my advocacy for HIV testing.