Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Mr Gay Ethiopia

While this is a follow up of my last post, the new title seemed quite apt. Not only because it is the latest phrase requiring a fitting translation in my native Amharic, but also as it is one that I had literally never come across or needed to make use of until a few weeks ago And is one I wish desperately and with all my heart, its survival in the future.  

 The uproar and kerfuffle that followed the news of an Ethiopian contestant taking part in this year’s Mr Gay world competition soon multiplied exponentially and in numerous dimensions.  The arguments branched out in to sub-arguments and individual concerns turned to a major talking point mainly among the online Habesha community at home and abroad.  And with the much anticipated date fast approaching, it all seemed to have been blown way out of proportion when Robel’s supposedly “despicable” deed along with the western world’s alleged conniving mission to defile Ethiopia and the continent with the ‘disease’ (homosexuality), was named and shamed on a national radio station based in Addis.
 This was subsequently followed by an Amharic article on a local magazine which in accordance with the nations “exceptionally ludicrous” journalistic standards; printed Robel’s pictures without his consent.
 To my surprise, I had now developed some kind of immunity to the barrage of horrifyingly hostile comments on indisputably biased articles on the topic, by Ethiopian sites.My curiosity and itching desire to witness what was happening in real time has always lead me to seek out and read through endless list of such comments and exchanges. As coming across the rare, positively informed reasoning by people who don’t even necessarily identify as an LGBT Habesha, made the experience worthwhile.  But unlike previous occasions, this ‘inner emotional filter’ enabled me to somehow get through it all without much of the subsequent emotional trauma. A painful & desperate hopelessness which I inevitably had to cope with after absorbing similarly distressing messages of hatred towards  people like myself,  which roughly  represents  the societal  perspective to homosexuality in general as a whole, as well.
  Most notable  set of occurrence  which  similarly lead to generations of silence surrounding the issue to be broken, and significant  expression of opinion(be it a wholly one sided one) was ,the period   following the AMSHeR meeting in Addis, late last year and the events that followed.

 A few months on, here was the same old poorly informed, appallingly biased and exclusively religious-belief based opinions absolutely devoid of  either logical reasoning or a slight consideration of the concept of  basic human right, being blatantly expressed and shared! Calls for the need to defy this western “evil culture” unanimously accepted along with individual pledges to cleanse the holy nation from the impending threat of homosexuality, and of individuals possessed by this evil disease…And this is where having a targetable entity in the form of the  gay Ethiopian, Robel G. Hailu (Mr Gay Ethiopia), came in handy. 
 An indescribable feeling of joy & pride surges through me every time I get to refer to myself as proud Gay Ethiopian’ a proud Habesha and a proud Zega. But to my dismay, it is still not unconditional. Which is perhaps the case for most fellow queer Ethiopians.  And as sure and aware of the realities of being born in to a Habesha family I am, I have no doubt that we have all at one point or another contemplated and hoped for ‘a life without limitations. One without the need to abide by conditions and conform to contextual restrictions. An existence were by we are wholly and utterly truthful to all in our world, as we are to our inner world! 
  While the coward imbecile that is me chooses to take one tiny little step at a time, it always draws a spurt of  vigour to take a leap up on coming across individuals who have mastered the courage to go all the way, freely and unreservedly. But such queer Ethiopian acquaintances whose religious, cultural and family background I can relate to, are quite few. And besides, some of these individuals who have successfully gained their family’s acceptance of their sexuality would almost always still have to exclude themselves from other Ethiopians in diaspora communities or resort to incognito personas at times (In instances where they would like to maintain their Habesha community status, church membership and the like).
 This is perhaps, one reason beside all that truly fascinated me up on coming to know of Robel, for he only knows what it feels for a Habesha to unreservedly shout out to the world, his pride in his sexuality!

The brave man

Robel G. Hailu; Mr Gay Ethiopia 2012

 The 24 yr. old IT graduate, Robel Hailu, born and raised in Addis  and currently doing his post graduate studies in South Africa had bravely taken the initiative to represent Ethiopia in in the 4th Annual   Mr Gay world completion.  And subsequently became a subject of horrifying insult, malicious messages of hate and direct death threats which dominated most of the aforementioned comments. 
Once again, I can’t even begin to fathom his remarkable courage and outstanding audacity. All the same, it was perhaps not so difficult to imagine the numbing pain and emotional distress he must have had to endure up on reading what was being said about him.

But then again, this very emotional vitality is perhaps not only the basis of his ingenuity to dare accomplish what no Ethiopian has ever attempted and the source of enviable tenacity that saw him soldier on through the event regardless of the challenges… but perhaps the reason why he is the undisputable owner of the title “Mr Gay Ethiopia” for the first time ever.
  This fact, I feel is quite important to set straight as numerous individuals had insistently claimed that he was not a legitimate representation and a legitimate “Mr Gay Ethiopia”, since he never won a national completion as is the case for delegates from other countries and because he was not officially recognized by some sort of official body back in Ethiopia.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the infeasibility of holding a national Mr gay completion in Ethiopia, given among countless other reasons, the legal status of homosexuality. Equally absurd it is to expect him to have been endorsed by the government. While even the absence of other individuals seeking to represent the Ethiopian Gay community would by default make him the sole qualifier.  In addition, I would also like to mention the case, coincidentally of a namesake fellow Habesha.
Robel Teklemariam became the first Ethiopian to compete at a Winter Olympic Games in 2006 in Turin, Italy.  Robel who moved to the US at age 9, was by default the only Ethiopian representative, and literally flew the flag for the nation despite obviously never having been a winner of national race as is the case for the other Olympians, or needing to be endorsed by a non-existent Ski federation of Ethiopia.

This should reasonably dispel beyond doubt, Robel’s legitimate representation of our community and his delegacy as an Ethiopian national.
  Yes there was a slight apprehension mostly from Robel’s close friends back in Addis who might be identified from their past association with him and all of it emanating from the fear of backlash & witch-hunt that might follow.  But ultimately, the risk was far outweighed by the ground breaking & truly invaluable message this would inevitably send to the nation of Ethiopia, and to the 37 African countries where homosexuality illegal and punishable by law. 
After all, the Mr Gay world completion itself was new not only to Ethiopia, but the entire continent.

The Event
Founded in 2009, Mr Gay World is an annual contest for gay men, seeking to establish ambassadors for Gay and Human Rights, with winners of national contests competing as delegates in a variety of categories. 

The official website states;
“The Mr Gay World Competition is a Twenty First Century public performance where the delegates represent their nation as the best spokesperson and embody the spirit of their nation.
The competition takes place over an intense four days and includes various challenges including a photo challenge, sports challenge, fashion show/run way challenge, swim suit challenge, public speaking and a local outreach challenge where MGW is able to work with a local charity to give back to the community in hosting the competition. 
The delegate chosen to represent his peers on a global stage will not only have the inner beauty of confidence, self-assurance, charisma and natural leadership abilities but he will also take care in his outward beauty. The delegate will treat his body as his temple and will be active and outgoing. He will have impeccable grooming standards and has a thorough understanding of what attire is appropriate for each engagement he is to encounter.
During the stage competitions and particularly in the personal interviews, the jury will focus on the delegate who:

-Shows an interest in the world and people around him
-Displays patience, has a compassionate and considerate nature
-Embraces change, or things and people different from his own frame of
-Reference, experience or cultural background
      -An articulate his thoughts and conduct an intelligent conversation
-Has a basic innate charm and sparkle
-Is special, and authentic
-Has poise and is secure with himself, without coming across as arrogant
-Is the ambassador that his nation and local community is proud of
-Can be a diplomat of goodwill
-Has natural leadership skills
-He inspires his peers and people around him
-Is willing to take risks and become something larger than he had imagined
-Is willing to have fun, push his personal comfort zones, and meet many wonderful people around the globe and be part of a very select and special group of men
 He is Mr Gay World” 

The first event held in Whistler, Canada in 2009 was won by Max Krzyzanowski from Ireland, while South African delegates won the last two events in Oslo, Norway and the Philippines.
This unique and the most publicized gay contest in the world was to be make its debut in Africa ,where its positive message is desperately needed if ever attention is to be brought to the plight of millions of LGBT Africans up and down the continent and change brought about.
  And despite, the ever mounting anticipation and hype…it all kicked off as planned on the April the 4th. A variety of events, from a sports challenge to a wildlife safari and a Children charity outreach leading up to a Sunday evening finale. 

The Grand Finale
   My love of weekends has for a while now been replaced by the dread of being unable to spend them with my sweetheart.  I can hardly recall the last time we had a Sunday night movie -feet up, with a drink or two. Thanks to weekend shifts that seldom allow him to get home before midnight. And this Sunday, was no exception…Only consolation being a few bottles of my favourite juice,  “Leffe blonde”, I went online frantically searching for a means to follow the Mr Gay world final.
 I would have given my right arm for a seat in what I envisioned to be a grand hall packed full of buzzing, enthusiastic crowd with a shared intention of watching colourful African history being made.
 And though several sub challenges had already taken place and winners determined, there were still the Delegate’s Questions and the National & Formal Costume categories … not to mention, Swim Wear!
Unfortunately, I had to make do with picture-less twits from those lucky enough to have been in there, in person. Eventually learning the top ten, and the apparent final winner.

The Winner…My Hero
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Mr Gay World 2012; Andreas Derlethhe
German born New Zealander, Andreas Derlethhe was the ultimate winner and crowned Mr Gay world 2012. Fair enough; the 32 year old, 6.3 ft. hunk with to die for Abs not only looked gorgeous, but he also excelled in the Delegate’s Interview, Swim wear and Sports challenges which accounted for twenty per cent of the total scores.

In a later interview, the new Mr Gay world pledged to continue to carry on the vision and mission of the organization that seeks to fight the discrimination and stigma faced by the gay community across the globe.

   Yes I was a tad disappointed that none of the two remaining black Africans, Mr Gay Ethiopia & Namibia, made it through to the last ten!
 Namibia's Wendelinus Hamutenya whose family accompanied him to the airport for a warm send-off when he left for the competition was the only black African delegate to get the full support of his family. The registered midwife who at 16 came out to his parents and managed to gradually gain their acceptance, was visibly disappointed at not making it to the final stages though.
In an interview with AP, Hamutenya said “My experience shows that Africans and Africa can 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.”

 Nevertheless, the final line up and culmination didn’t at all lessen my expectations of what the competition is about and would be like; for the mere fact that such an event could successfully take place on African soil and in an African nation where equality was unthinkable not long ago, is a ground breaking achievement and an invaluable lesson for the entire continent.
 Neither did the outcome lead me to resent Robel’s representation for I could not have possibly been proud of anybody, any more! No amount of words can set forth my utmost respect for him and the milestone feat he attained in the struggle for LGBT human rights in Ethiopia and the African continent.  Besides all, I believe he will have inevitably brought about change in attitude among fellow Ethiopians with extremely ill-informed perception of  us, Queer humans, as being  ‘a devil possessed , drug addicted and sex crazed beings with no hope & courage and with absolutely no aspirations in life what so ever…!’

My frequent Skype conversations with Robel, have enabled me to get a closer   insight in to his remarkable aims & plans for a tangible Ethiopian LGBT rights movement while  I also truly esteem and hope to learn from his enviable personal  traits of  strength, courage and un- yielding tenacity.Mr Gay Ethiopia that is Robel Hailu is the real embodiment of quintessential Habesha inner and outer beauty, Ethiopian pride and African heroism.
*Many, many thanks from me, your fellow Zega brothers and all LGBT Ethiopians you represented and did proud, Robel*

                                                                                                          Selam (ሰላም)