In Focus: Mr Gay World
Sometime in 1994, when the Philippines hosted the Miss Universe beauty contest that Miss India Sushmita Sen won, a feminist (who happened to teach Peace Education in Notre Dame University in Cotabato City) had only one comment: “If the intent of (such a beauty pageant) is to highlight the best in women, why do they have to continue parading women in swimsuits, as if being brainy (through the question and answer portion, no matter the triviality of the questions) is not enough if it is not paired with the need to be displayed as sex objects?”
And that, in a gist, is the major argument against beauty pageants – the claim to be brainy even if, in more ways than one, it is but a celebration of superficiality.
The same critique has been facing Mr Gay World (MGW), i.e. that it may just be promoting an unrealistic “ideal” beauty in a world that should actually be focusing on not just accepting, but celebrating diversity.
But for Eric Butter, president and founder of MGW, this is “more than just a beauty pageant. Though our contestants are blessed with good looks (and brave hearts), MGW uses the structure of a pageant to communicate an ideal. The ideal is a world of equals built on respect. Our winner will have a range of skills to enhance that objective including good looks, a bright intelligence, the capacity to listen, an awareness of global issues and the courage to speak out against injustice,” he said.
MGW was launched in October 2008, when like-minded people came together after two “disappointing” international events in the USA. “A coalition of representatives from different continents came together with a shared human rights and citizenship vision,” Butter said of the global correspondence that ended with the “Dublin Summit”. There was, at that time, a need to find a way how “we could present the positive gay identity” and a pageant format was considered as a good way able to provide a “strong presentation of what is good about gay life and culture.”
The gathering led to the holding of the first MGW in Whistler, Canada in February 2009, highlighting Butter’s belief that “visibility is important in all countries and impossible in many, so our winner had to have strength of character and knowledge of circumstance, way beyond the traditional pageant winner.”
Aside from philanthropist Butter, who provided a substantial investment over the years, other people who were involved since the beginning included Noemi Alberto from the Philippines, Dean Nelson from Canada, Carlos Melia from Argentina and Brian Merriman from Ireland.
The key intent of MGW (i.e. positive representation) has not changed since then. “It is a very slow process to achieve equality of respect for gay life and culture worldwide, and we want to make a small contribution to the great work of many brave activists throughout the world who combat prejudice daily,” Butter said. “Our modest ambition to inform and build global respect and understanding is set out for the long term.”
How this is done is, well, quite simple. “Unity in numbers is a key. We connect people from the five continents of the world and share the positive experience of liberated societies, and to support those who lived in closed societies that imprison or execute gay people. There is strength in numbers,” Butter said, adding that it helps, too, that “so many straight people share in and support our goals.”
That it is able to build a “global network of information and support” is MGW’s major source of pride. “Recently, our supporters joined in the campaign to liberate the Malawian engaged couple from 14 years in prison; and to highlight the murder of David Kato in Uganda. Also, MGW in the Philippines has highlighted the Red Ribbon campaign to promote HIV awareness,” Butter said.
There are numerous challenges that MGW continues to face, including finding resources, firing media interest, reaching delegates, et cetera. Now add to the challenge the continuing superficial way of seeing beauty pageants in promoting causes.
But MGW is more than willing to work hard to face these challenges. In reaching delegates, for example, contestants from countries in Africa and the Middle East (for example, Iran) may serve as good examples, since their lives may be “in danger from the State.” But “we are joining the constructive dialogue created by activists worldwide to rid us all of these anti-human rights values. Evil only triumphs when good people do nothing. We are doing something,” Butter said. MGW, thus, continues to “spread our inclusive message of respect and celebration.”
And that MGW is doing something should at least count for something.