History of Mr. Gay Taiwan
In June 2008 Eric Butter and Dean Nelson began organizing the Mr. Gay World global competition in hopes of spreading awareness for LGBTQ human rights issues. This contest brings gay men together from different regions around the world to embrace and promote a message of equality and acceptance for members of the LGBTQ community. Mr. Gay World’s mission is “to demonstrate that both inward beauty and physical appearance are equally important as is leadership and confidence (MrGayWorld.com).”
Mr. Gay Taiwan was founded in 2014 by Igor Scheurkogel and Scott Leveque with the purpose of including Taiwanese candidates in the Mr. Gay World competition. Julie Biscayart also later joined the team as a PR executive to help create a more inclusive event for the whole LGBTQ community.
In its foundation, the organizers faced many challenges, because the LGBTQ community in Taiwan were not very connected, and most people were unaware of the existence of Mr. Gay World. Also, finding participants proved to be difficult, because Taiwanese society is not as open to homosexuality as many other Western countries. Though Taiwan is more progressive about LGBT issues than other Asian countries, many gay men still fear exposure and persecution.
In the first year of Mr. Gay Taiwan the organizers were worried that they had only two contestants willing to participate. However, Scott Leveque and his friend Queena Zhou worked arduously until securing six final contestants. The first Mr. Gay Taiwan was held on July 3rd, at The Brickyard in Kaohsiung. Hansel Luma, age 19, was crowned the first ever winner of the 2014 pageant. The organizing team was able to raise $24,000NTD in prize money, but the first year’s winner was not able to acquire sponsorship to participate in Mr. Gay World held in Rome. The withdrawal of sponsorship did not stop this amazing team though; together, the organizers worked diligently to build more awareness for the contest while also fighting for LGBTQ rights in Taiwan. (MrGayTaiwan.com)
In an online interview with Igor Scheurkogel and Scott Leveque it was discovered that they created Mr. Gay Taiwan in hopes of giving Taiwan a chance to be represented on an International level. Scheurkogel explained that he aspired for Mr. Gay Taiwan to be a channel for the local LGBTQ community, so citizens could voice their concerns and needs. By showing society that there are multiple dimensions to being gay, the contestants could contribute to helping defeat stereotypes while also displaying their individual talents. Mr. Gay Taiwan allowed men to voice their opinions, stories, hopes, and aspirations in a public manner so they could generate conversation about LGBTQ issues in the public sphere. In an online Facebook Interview, Scott Leveque described how he and Igor decided to involve Taiwan in the Mr. Gay World competition:
Caroline: Why did you become involved with Mr. Gay Taiwan?
Scott: Igor (Mr. Gay Taiwan President) and I were out at Brickyard’s Rainbow Thursday and we got to talking about his experience with Mr. Gay South Africa. Add some beer to the conversation and the idea that Taiwan should participate in Mr. Gay World came up. I wanted to be involved in this because I have been treated so well in Taiwan, so this is another way that i could give back to not just the LGBT community, but also to Taiwan. I think one of the most important ways to progress LGBT rights is through visibility. If people know an LGBT person, then they are more likely to believe in equality for LGBT. I think this event is also beneficial to show the world about LGBT life in Taiwan, so this event is very important for Taiwan.
Caroline: How important is this event for 1) Taiwan, 2) the contestant, and 3) for you?
Scott: As I said before, I have had an amazing life in Taiwan and I really wanted to give back to Taiwan. In the past, I have worked with and participated in other charity events, such as raising money for the Formosa Cancer charity. But this event is more important to me because I am LGBT. I’ve heard/seen stories of some struggles LGBT have had. Even though LGBT people are fairly accepted in Taiwan, there still seems to be a struggle when it comes to being open/out with family. I really hope that Mr. Gay Taiwan can start a dialogue and promote visibility which may one day lead to more/easier acceptance by all. (SMS Interview October 26, 2016)
The first year was a bit of a rocky start for the organizers. There was a lack of awareness about the Mr. Gay World competition in the LGBTQ community of Taiwan. However, the organizers did not give up. In order to make 2015 more successful, Igor Scheurkogel, Scott Leveque, and Julie Biscayart had to come up with a better strategy for fundraising and event planning. Their goal for 2015 was to send the candidate to the Mr. Gay World competition while also simultaneously covering any costs involved. For the 2015 contests, The Mr. Gay Taiwan organizers reached out to more LGBTQ communities throughout all of Taiwan. They decided to host the competition in Kaohsiung in order to strengthen the community down south, while also bringing more LGBTQ related events to this city. The organizers were fortunate enough to gain sponsorship from Meimeiwawa Multimedia (妹妹娃娃) who helped to organize the event while also providing a substantial donation covering the travel costs for the winner to travel to Mr. Gay World. The organizers also hosted book drives, boat parties, and comedy shows to raise any additional travel funds and the required $30,000NTD registration fee.
The 2015 Mr. Gay Taiwan ended up being a great success. Ten participants competed in the competition. The participants were required to showcase a talent such as playing music, singing a song, dancing, or even showing their cooking skills. The candidates also were required to compete in the casual wear, swimwear, and evening wear pageant. Each contestant finally had to answer a question demonstrating how they would represent Taiwan in the Mr. Gay World Competition.
The winner of the 2015 Mr Gay Taiwan was Benson Chiang who later competed in the Mr. Gay World 2016 competition held in Malta. After winning Mr. Gay Taiwan, Chiang worked tirelessly by participating in photo shoots, promotional events, and fundraising activities. Chiang did not win the Mr. Gay world competition, but he enjoyed representing his country and meeting contestants from all over the world. Chiang is still involved in the Mr. Gay Taiwan activities for 2016.
Mr. Gay Taiwan 2016 Competition
This year’s Mr. Gay Taiwan 2016 competition was held on October 29th, in Taipei, during the Pride Festival. By hosting the event during Pride, the organizers felt they could reach a larger audience and help spread awareness of the Mr. Gay Taiwan organization. This year eight contestants were chosen, however on the day of the competition only five decided to compete. It is obvious that despite progress, there is still stigma felt by the greater community.
In an interview with Igor Scheurkogel he explained that three of the contestants had to drop out. Their names were not given during the interview to keep their identities confidential; however, Scheurkogel was more than willing to share the reasons why each contestant had to leave the competition.
Caroline: Can you please explain what happened to the other contestants who were going to compete?
Igor: Originally, we had eight contestants. The first one who backed out was a contestant last year and he had a great spirit. He wasn’t exactly the athletic, muscular type but he brought diversity to the competition and helped to break the stereotypes of what a gay man should be. He couldn’t join due to work. The second one that dropped out was from KHH and he was an older man. Again we were happy about the diversity. And then, like two days before the competition, he just said due to his family finding out about him joining, he had to withdraw. But after Pride I saw him posting picture on Facebook that he was at pride and was very “gay” so I don’t know if was nerves or what.The third one was the contestant that signed up first. He was very excited, but as we got closer to the event he started not replying. And then like three days before he said he wanted to back out. Then I convinced him to stay, but then Saturday he just didn’t show up. Later I saw on Facebook that he was working at Tasty and posting on Facebook. He never gave an apology or explanation, and I haven’t heard from him since then. (Interview conducted through SMS on November 8, 2016)
Though three of the contestants dropped out, The Mr. Gay Taiwan team continued to work diligently to make the event as successful as possible. Bertus Van Aswegen,Mr Gay Taiwan’s media director and also a reporter with Gay Star News, worked effortlessly designing logos, making banners, running the social media campaigns, and photographing the contestants throughout the event. Monica Sanderson was arduous in her efforts backstage as she dealt with administrative tasks and helped the event run smoothly. Furthermore, throughout the day, the contestants represented Mr. Gay Taiwan by marching in the Pride parade and participating in the pageant.
On the day of the competition we were invited as press to interview the contestants and to observe a behind the scenes perspective on the process involved in creating this event. During the interviews, we asked the contestants a few simple questions to understand what representing Taiwan means to them. Pride Taiwan is the biggest LGBT event in Asia, so we aimed to discover why this is so significant to the Mr. Gay Taiwan contestants. Furthermore, we sought to uncover each contestant’s plans for representing Taiwan if they won and represented Taiwan in the Mr. Gay World competition. Finally, we asked these men what changes did they most want for Taiwanese society.
Here are some highlights from our interviews:
Ryan, age 30, Taipei
“Taiwan is far more open about issues that affect pride. A lot of countries look up to us because we are open”
Melvin, age 31, Kaohsiung
“In my opinion I think Pride should say our words inside our heart to the the government. And maybe it will let them know what we really want”
“I want to show myself and I am very confident of being gay. I want to represent all others in LGBTQ. They should be respected also.”
Touya, age 22,
“There is some stigmatization in Taiwan, and so I hope if I become Mr. Gay Taiwan I can reduce it.
“In the public gay people are discriminated, so they are afraid of coming out. If we can create a place that there is no discrimination we can be brave and step out and say “yes I am gay. When people are afraid of gays, they just don’t know, so we have to teach them.
Justin, age 37, Taipei
“Pride is very important because Taiwan is not as open-minded like American, German, Europe; so a lot of people think like ‘what is gay, what is a lesbian? What is trans? Are you a pervert?’ This pride will show society we are nothing different. Though we are gay, we still live a beautiful life”
“If I win Mr. Gay Taiwan I will use everything I can get to make gay marriage legal. I can announce loudly and influence a lot of people to make gay marriage legal. We will be the first country in Asia to have legal gay marriage.”
Allen (Dalima), age 27, Taitung
“We shouldn’t limit anyone. I think more people in Taiwan should give support to LGBTQ.”
“I must push, and show, and know that LGBTQ is the same as others. I hope to let Taiwan’s people to know me. And I can have more power to lead my group.”
It was an astonishing experience to be able to engage with each of the candidates. All of the contestants agreed that legalizing gay marriage would be momentous and highly significant for Taiwan. They displayed their passion and hope to be seen as equals amongst members of society. Their courage and perseverance was truly admirable. In order to win the Mr. Gay Taiwan contest, the candidates had taken a quiz covering the history of LGBTQ in Taiwan, the history of LGBTQ worldwide, essential facts about Mr. Gay World, world news and current events, and finally, Taiwan news coverage LGBTQ issues. The results of this quiz were factored into the overall score to determine the winner. The judges also interviewed the contestants individually, before preparing them for marching in the Pride Parade. Furthermore, votes from social media were also taken into account. During the parade, the contestants were expected to engage with the crowd and show their enthusiasm. The contest ended with a pageant hosted at Red House in Ximen, the most popular gay bar district in Taipei.
There were additional performances by Taiwan’s notorious drag queens Magnolia La Manga and Bouncy Babs. Both drag queens performed vivaciously and ended their songs with short speeches about marriage equality and messages for anti-discrimination. Also, a group of Aboriginal Taiwanese from Kaohsiung gave an inspiring performance with Pacak Palasasav covering David Guetta’s (featuring Sia) song “Titanium” while two others did an interpretive dance. The song demonstrated a powerful message that the LGBTQ community may face adversity, but they will remain strong and never stop fighting for equality.
The contestants for Mr. Gay Taiwan partook in a formal wear and underwear competition to show off their confidence and fitness. Then, candidates answered questions about how they would represent Taiwan and what would they do to fight against prejudice and bigotry towards members in the LGBTQ community. Justin responded, “Though we are gay we can still have a beautiful life. We are not so different. Gay marriage in Taiwan is almost legal. If we stay together we are strong!”. Melvin commented, “We are all equal in the world, I want to change the attitude of the world to have different thoughts.” Touya said, “I want to make the LGBT group visible to the world. We can destroy discrimination, because everyone, they don’t want to come out, but why!? Because other people discriminate us. We don’t need to be the ones that are discriminated,We have to destroy this stigmatization!”
In the end, Touya was declared the winner and Justin was the first runner up. Touya will go on to Spain to compete in the Mr. Gay world competition. If he is unable to compete, Justin will take his place. This year’s Mr. Gay World contest will coincide with Madrid’s World Pride 2017 event. The competition will begin on May 5th-7th, and then five contestants will continue onwards to Gran Canaria (Maspalomas) from the 8th-10th for the grand finale. Participants will compete in various “social, cultural and sporting activities, all related to the requirements and tests set by the event in order to qualify for the title of Mr. Gay World (MrGayWorld.com).”