The annual Mr Gay World Southern Africa pageant has just announced the 2017 candidates for the final leg of the local contest, and the competition is fierce. Hailing from around the country, the diverse mix of races, ages, and sizes, could give the run-of-the-mill South African beauty pageants a real taste of what a South African beauty contest could be.
The 13 delegates were announced this week, after entries closed at the end of July for the 2017 edition of Mr Gay World Southern Africa. "Mr Gay World Southern Africa is not just an easy walk down the runway, it is an intense competition to find the very best ambassador to represent Southern Africa at the Mr Gay World event to be held in 2018," said the organisers this week.
"What we're looking for is a gentleman who is willing to carry the torch for the LGBTQ in South Africa, and globally," organiser Johann van Niekerk told HuffPost SA. "It's someone who can stand on his own feet, answer questions directly, and be an honest representative of the local LGBTQ community. It's not about the clothing you're wearing, or what you look like, but how you present yourself, and the things you believe in."
The winner, who will be selected through a combination of public voting and several judging rounds, will be announced at a big ceremony in Pretoria at the end of September. The public votes count toward a final mark, which is combined with another mark based on their performance during the orientation week in September, and then a final judging mark at the final ceremony. The winner of Mr Gay World Southern Africa will then go on to represent South Africa at the international finals next year.
Delegates will have to answer a series of very personal questions in the run-up to the final event, and on the big night. In the past judges asked the delegates to speak openly about what it was like for them to come out of the closet, and others why they hadn't yet.
"But of course, this is still a beauty pageant, and judges will ask the standard questions like what your favourite colour, animal and dress sense is like," Van Niekerk explains. "Generational knowledge, like a candidates knowledge of gay history of events like the Stonewall riots, for instance, is another question that often comes up."
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This week candidates released a series of videos, that they recorded themselves, which go deeper into who they are. Many of the videos are moving accounts of some of their brave stories.
Legal accounts manager and passionate dancer Karabo Morake (27) told his story in an intimate video of his life. In the video ,Morake breaks down as he explains that at the age of 21 he decided to take his own life, rather than face the reality of coming out to his family.
"I still remember it like it was yesterday, when I told my mum, 'Mom, I am different'. I couldn't bring myself to say the word gay, because growing up I always heard my parents speak about how dispicable it was to be gay. I ran to the cupboard, took all the pills I could find. She found me lying in the bathroom, she started screaming and shouting, and then drained most of the pills out of me," Morake says, choking back the tears, adding, "What drove me to suicide was the look in her eyes, the look of disappointment."
"I was expected to get married, I was expected to be a bread winner, I was expected to have children. I was expected to live a certain way. All this laid heavy in my heart, and I had no one to talk to." But Morake overcame it, he says. "Being gay was a taboo in my culture. Eventually, after four years of incidents, I am proud to say, 'I am Karabo Morake, and I am gay.'"
Morake intends to inspire others to tell their stories as part of his #Tellyourstory campaign, which each candidate needs to promote, and discuss in their delegate video. His is just one of the many inspiring revelations coming out of the event, which organizers describe as "A pageant with a purpose".
Voting is now open for all candidates, closing on Friday 22 September 2017 at midnight, so go check them out.