NZ's entrant wins Mr Gay World title

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Mr Gay World, Andreas Derleth, who represented New Zealand.
ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Mr Gay World, Andreas Derleth, who represented New Zealand.

A stationery store manager representing New Zealand has won the title of Mr Gay World in Johannesburg.

Andreas Derleth, 32, who works at Warehouse Stationery, last night won the annual contest for gay men standing up for gay and human rights.

Originally from Germany, Derleth moved to New Zealand four years ago on a working holiday visa and "fell in love" with the country.

Last month, he told that he was excited about the competition as he would meet new people standing up from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) community.

"Sometimes gay life is still stereotyped and having such an amazing event showing role models will add to the acceptance of GLBT people," he said.

The Mr Gay competition took place over four days and included various challenges, including a photo, sports, fashion, swim suit, public speaking, and local outreach challenges.

On the contest's website, it said 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.

Twenty-two men participated in the competition, a decision that had its consequences for some.

When Mr Gay Ethiopia put his name down, his father cut off all communications. While Mr Gay Zimbabwe withdrew, fearing the publicity was making life difficult for his mother.

But Mr Gay Namibia's family accompanied him to the airport for a warm send-off when he left for the competition.

"Bring the trophy home," Namibia's Wendelinus Hamutenya said his mother told him.

When Derleth was crowned, a disappointed Hamutenya said he would nonetheless return to Namibia to fight "for gay rights and human rights."

Hamutenya said his experience showed that Africans and Africa could change.

On the continent, gay rights activists have been vilified, threatened and killed. Laws in dozens of African countries ban homosexual acts.

Prominent African politicians ridicule gays and minor politicians grab headlines by proposing even tougher anti-gay laws.

"I hope and I believe that Namibia will be the second country in Africa to recognize the rights" of gays, Hamutenya said.

The first country was South Africa, also the first African country to host Mr. Gay World, which debuted in 2009 in Canada.
South Africa's Mr Gay World contestant, Lance Weyer, was white. Weyer, a psychologist who recently won office on a city council in southeastern South Africa, said gays like him have the education and money to fight back when their rights are violated.

That makes it all the more important, he said, for successful gays and lesbians to speak out, both to be role models for others and to shake up conservative attitudes.

Weyer was named first runner up Sunday. Neither of the black African contestants made it to the final 10.

"We look for the best man, whether he's white or black or any other colour," Tore Aasheim, one of the Mr Gay World organisers, said.

It isn't just African gays who face difficulties. The Chinese contestant was unable to come to Johannesburg because of anti-gay pressure there, organisers said. Representation was thin from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East - all regions where gay rights are under threat.

In the United States, projects like It Gets Better reach out to young homosexual to help them cope with harassment, a reminder that even in the West, gays are vulnerable. The American Mr Gay World contestant, Kevin Scott Power, is an elementary school teacher who said even young children experience anti-gay bullying.

Power, who finished fourth overnight (NZ time), said he was not nervous at coming to Africa, despite its homophobic reputation.

"We're all representing the people that don't have the power to stand up," Power told reporters in Johannesburg.

-AP and Fairfax NZ