Mr Gay World uses fame for good

Andreas Derleth won the title at the "intense" fourth annual Mr Gay World competition in Johannesburg, South Africa
Andreas Derleth won the title at the "intense" fourth annual Mr Gay World competition in Johannesburg, South Africa

An Aucklander who took out the title of Mr Gay World wants to dispel the stereotype that gay men "run around with handbags".

Andreas Derleth, who prefers to be called Andy, beat 22 other contestants for the title at the "intense" fourth annual Mr Gay World competition in Johannesburg, South Africa, two weeks ago.

"I was very surprised and very proud. We won the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and now we've won Mr Gay World. I think it's a huge honour," he said.

As part of his prize package, which includes swimwear, cosmetics and jewellery, Derleth was also awarded a $25,000 allowance to visit five continents during his term.

And it's money he's hoping to put to good use because he wants to erase "the image of us [gay men] running around with handbags".

"The role of Mr Gay World is to stand up for gay and human rights, which I'm very into. I want to use this to raise public awareness about gay rights and promote acceptance. There are still countries which have the death penalty if you're gay."

The 33-year-old comes from Germany but immigrated to New Zealand in 2008. He's now a permanent resident and lives in Torbay with his partner Tom Linn, with whom he entered into a civil union last year on 11/11/11.

Derleth, who works as an operations project manager at Warehouse Stationery, was encouraged by Linn and a multitude of friends to enter Mr Gay New Zealand in February. That victory put him in the running for the world title.

Linn said although he had "reservations" about how his partner would fare, he was "quite impressed" with the preparation Derleth had put in before heading to South Africa.

"At first when we looked at the other contestants' videos, I though he was up against very tough competition because they all had experience with public performance, and I don't think Andy had done something like that before," he said.

"But he learnt all the contestants' names from the pictures the organisers sent before he went and put in a lot of preparation. I said to him 'you better win after all this'."

As well as taking to the stage to compete in swimwear and formal categories, Derleth has to take a written exam on the history of the LGBT rights movement as well as work with a local charity in Johannesburg.

"[The Mr Gay World contestants] were constantly judged on our behaviour toward each other, our personal grooming, we had to write an exam on LGBT rights history, we had a sports challenge," said Derleth.

"We also had to work with a charity - that was a truly amazing experience. We saw these kids who were orphaned from aids and we gave them books and read to them. It was a truly amazing experience."

Derleth now has his work cut out for him as he prepares to travel the world to promote his cause. And although he said there was plenty of acceptance in New Zealand for the gay community, tolerance still needed to be promoted.

"You will get some people who say things about gay people around young people and that behaviour possibly makes it hard for people to come out. We need to see people embracing it and not scaring them away."

"There are many cases where young people are scared to come out, so I want to encourage them to get in touch with Rainbow Youth or organisations like that. You hear so many stories of young people who commit suicide and then you don't know the reason why. It then comes out later that they were gay and they can't deal with it."

Derleth is also hoping to pick up sponsors along the way to promote the Mr Gay New Zealand contest, which has largely been funded by 2011 title holder Aaron Comis.

"It's important for the community that we keep running this competition in the years to come," he said.

Fairfax Media