Mr Gay Europe challenges eastern prejudices
Despite needing police protection around the clock and holding the final show in a discreet location near Dracula's Castle in Romania, the organisers of Mister Gay Europe 2011 feel that their mission was successful in challenging prejudices in the new EU member state.
"Coming from Norway, where gay rights are the same as human rights, the experience of travelling to a country where you need police escorts 24/7 was quite different. But all turned out very well," Tore Aasheim, the organiser of Mister Gay Europe - a beauty contest for the gay community told this website on Wednesday (25 May).
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Held from 13-17 April in Brasov, Romania, the contest was at its fifth edition after being held in Oslo, Amsterdam and twice in Budapest.
After having experienced a Molotov cocktail being thrown into the Budapest bar and riot police cracking down on extreme-right protesters, Aasheim and his team decided to take more precautions in Romania, where some right-wing and religious groups also staged demonstrations.
"When we left the hotel to go to Bran [Dracula] Castle, there were police everywhere. A lot of people were protesting. But there were also quite a few counter-protesters supporting us. And people on the street were stopping us to ask for autographs. Everyone we met was very kind and welcoming," the Norwegian activist recalls.
He acknowledges that "life for gay people is very hard in Romania," but said that the society is changing and for instance the Romanian candidate got a lot of online support, including from co-workers at the recruiting firm he works for.
The contest itself is modelled on the famous Eurovision song contest - with national competitions in the broader European area, including countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Israel, selecting the final candidates. Even the points given are similar to Eurovision - 12 being the maximum.
"The idea to have a Mister Gay Europe came to me and a friend of mine in 2005, during the Europride parade which was held there," Aasheim explains.
But from a show with some "nice boys on stage" wearing swimming suits and dancing, the concept developed into something "more political," especially when it was held in Budapest and now Brasov.
"When someone becomes Mister Gay Europe, he can be a role model, he can talk to media about gay rights, it gives him a certain authority," the Norwegian says, noting that the current Mister Gay Europe, Giulio Spatola, is particularly brave and a good communicator.
Ranging from hairdressers and dancers to fighter-jet pilots and financiers, the candidates are selected to show that "these people are like you and me. They are not politicians, they are simply courageous people."
As for the reasons behind the anti-gay protests in Romania, Florin Buhuceanu, a campaigner for non-discrimination says that this has a lot to do with the "decades of severe ideological body control under Communism."
During the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989), homosexuality was a criminal offence and "treated" as a psychologically deviant sexual behaviour. "Homosexuality still troubles the vast majority of Romanians who couldn't yet escape from the medical definition which was previously the norm. A public gay event is still consider a public scandal. It provokes the ways we think about sexuality, intimacy, politics," Buhuceanu explains.