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Two Filipinos shine in global gay pageant

Erimar Sayo Ortigas, who wore the sash of the Philippines, was named Mr. Gay Internet Popularity and made it to the semifinal round; while Benjie Vasquez Caraig, a migrant worker who carried the flag of Hong Kong, almost bagged the crown by finishing first runner-up.

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrgayeurope/

The Philippines’ lucky streak in the international beauty arena continues as two Filipino gays figured prominently in the fifth edition of the Mr. Gay World pageant, held at the Elckerlijc Theatre in Antwerp, Belgium, in the earlier part of August.

Erimar Sayo Ortigas, who wore the sash of the Philippines, was named Mr. Gay Internet Popularity and made it to the semifinal round; while Benjie Vasquez Caraig, a migrant worker who carried the flag of Hong Kong, almost bagged the crown by finishing first runner-up, in this 21st century competition aimed at empowering and inspiring gay men to come together in a public performance “that would show the world that being gay encompasses a broad spectrum.”

It was Christopher Michael Olwage of New Zealand who walked away with the title at the end of the event, beating 24 other candidates from around the world. The 27-year-old dancer cum fitness instructor and South African native also had the lion’s share of special awards — art challenge winner, best in national costume and best in swimsuit. He was crowned by his compatriot, Andreas Derleth, a gay icon in Germany who moved to Auckland in 2008 to work as an operations project manager for a stationery company.

It was the second time in the half-a-decade history of the Mr. Gay World pageant that the same country won successively, the first one being Charl Van den Berg and Francois Nel of South Africa in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Apart from the title, Olwage also received a diamond worth €3,000 and an undisclosed amount of travel allowance to help him carry on the vision and mission of the organization in fighting discrimination and stigma faced by the gay community in various countries.

Matthew Simmons, a 25-year-old model from the United States, placed second runner-up. While Ashley Karym Peternella, 21, from Aruba—winner of the sports challenge—and Namibia’s Ricardo Raymond Amunjera-Themba, 30, completed the top five. The other four semifinalists were Australia’s Aaron Taylor, Nolan Lewis of India, Taiwan’s Darien Chen and Jaime David Montes Bernal of Mexico, also adjudged Mr. Gay Photogenic.

Canada’s Danny Dionysios Papadatos, voted Mr. Gay Congeniality winner; “hometown gay” Tom Goris of Belgium; and pre-tournament favorite Miguel Ortiz Vera of Spain, Mr. Gay Europe 2012 titleholder, all failed to make the cut. Unexpectedly, no European candidate advanced to the semifinal round of the competition this year.

Ortigas, 29, works as a communications manager for Werrcomm Solutions Inc. a business process outsourcing firm in Sta. Mesa, Manila. He completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration major in management at the Lyceum of the Philippines University in Intramuros.

Noemi Alberto, regional director of Mr. Gay World for Asia, and Mac Bordallo, Winnstruck Productions president — the local franchise holders of the global search — appointed him as the representative for his outstanding communication skills and for his good looks. Ortigas is no stranger to pageants – he was a semifinalist to eventual winner David Noel Bosley in the 2009 edition of the Mr. Gay World Philippines contest.

Before joining the local competition, Ortigas participated in various LGBT organizations here and abroad. He is a spokesperson for HIV awareness and is also helping several patients in their regular checkups and medications.

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Caraig, on the other hand, is an anti-bullying advocate. He is a member of Pink Alliance, a coalition of various LGBT groups in Hong Kong, which recently launched the “I am ME” video advocacy to curtail bullying among students because of their sexual orientation. The 31-year-old dance and fitness instructor grew up in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. He migrated to this former British colony seven years ago to work as a parade dancer in Disneyland. He acquired his legal status as a permanent resident of Hong Kong just a few days before leaving for Antwerp. He is an industrial engineering alumnus from the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Calamba, Laguna.

This year, the delegates were judged in four different categories: modeling, sports, leadership qualities and knowledge of LGBT-related issues. The judging panel comprised of Beverly Vergel, Filipino actor and image consultant; Michiel Vanackere, Belgian field coordinator for a European HIV research project; Adebisi Alimi, a Nigerian LGBT activist; Kristof de Busser, Antwerp Local Police chief inspector; Mr. Gay World titleholders Francois Nel of South Africa (2011) and Andreas Derleth of New Zealand (2012); and Eric Butter, the founder and president of Mr. Gay World Organization.

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