Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

Craig_friendly

IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

Craig_smile

BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

South Africa’s people

VANESSA SMEETS

South Africa, a country once cursed and condemned by her racist past, is now flourishing with eleven different tribes and numerous cultures. Here is just a glimpse into the beauty of her rainbow nation

These photos were taken over the span of two years (2010-2012), from posh cities like Cape Town and Stellenbosch to the more desolate Sutherland and the forgotten parts of Stellenbosch.
I avoided captioning the pics, in fear of people stealing them.

Please do not use these pictures for your own use. They are all copyrighted and my testimonies… If you have any questions about any of them, please leave a comment below. I am happy to share the stories behind each one, from 40 years of friendship, to Gay Pride and unique art.
South Africa reawakens in her people’s journeys.

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Don’t be a drag, just be a queen

VANESSA SMEETS

Rhino times

SAVE US: "Save the rhinos" with the motto 'Let me be horny' had the most colourful float. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Lady Gaga’s new song “Born this Way” hit South Africa just in time for its 16th Gay Pride Parade in Cape Town on March 5, which celebrated ‘Love our Diversity ‘ and became an anthem in the scorching heat, blazing loudly from several floats.

Spectators could also hear the chanting of “We’re queer and we’re here” as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) pride flag adorned the city in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Stellenbosch University’s Lesbigay opted for fairies and mythical creatures with the slogan “We exist,” blowing bubbles into the crowd. They shared the float with a few Cape Townian friends and decorated it in plastic ivy, sunflowers and pink and green balloons.

Lesbigay float

LET'S BE GAY: Lesbigay's colourful attire as mythical creatures made their second Pride Parade unforgettable. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“Next year, we hope to have our own float. Thirty members supported us this year, compared to the handful last year. It was absolutely magical,” said Ellen Wang, Lesbigay’s marketer and treasurer.

Other floats included a “Save the Rhinos” float with the slogan Let me be horny, a Beefcakes float decorated by pink flamingos, a bubble bath party, Cape Town Lesbians float decorated by women in lingerie, Crew’s float adorned with men in army briefs and the public dressed in colourful and original gear on foot.

Pride Parade CT

OUT AND ABOUT: The Pride Parade in Cape Town took a new route this year, leaving some members a little worried about their safety. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Pride started this year at the end of February with the Pride Film Premiere, the Red Party (to promote HIV awareness), a massive pool party and finally the parade which made its way up Beach Road, along the Cape Town stadium, through Sea Point’s Main Road and ended with an anti-climax afterparty at the stadium. Lack of music and ambiance influenced the majority to hit Clifton’s Third Beach and later end up at the Pink Strip’s clubs.

Fallen queen

FALLEN QUEEN: DJuze Nipples before her tragic fall. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“Lots of people were also bothered by this year’s new route, which made us more visible than last year. They felt more at ease in the old route,” said Roberto Millan, Lesbigay’s ex-chair. Dylan van Vuuren, Rainbow UCT’s former chair agrees: “The route could have been better organised and the R30 entrance at the afterparty was far too much. There wasn’t even a proper MC.”

Amongst the sea of rainbow flags, feather boas, fishnet stockings and men in drag, people holding placards shouted into the crowd: “Jesus can save you from homosexuality!” and “Jesus can save you from the lake of fire!” They blasted sirens into the crowd, which were dumbed down by the floats hooting to a maximum as they passed by.

Muslim pride

THE GREAT DIVIDE: Religion was a strong topic in this year's Gay Pride Parade. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Ironically, in the song Gaga sings, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or Him,” a direct reference to God, which permeated the entire parade, as a few floats opted to include religion as part of their theme. A group of Muslims were dressed in Middle-Eastern gear of silk saris and kaftans on their float, with a huge banner that read : “Created in the image of Allah. Muslim. Lesbian. Do you see the resemblance?”

The Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church decorated their float with a huge cross covered in the colours of the Pride flag, with two children holding up the official South African rainbow flag above the banner: “Would Jesus discriminate?” The ‘official’ South African Gay Flag was launched at last year’s MCQP party.

Beefcakes float

BEEF IT UP: The Beefcakes float claimed to have 'the best buns in town' and were a stern crowd favourite. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

The parade was interrupted half way when a drag queen “DJuze Nipples,” who was part of the Beefcakes float, fell off from the top of the truck as she moved to sing. Suffering from concussion, bruises and a cut leg, she was rushed to hospital in a brace and stretcher.

The Pride flag has been listed as the world’s largest flag by The Guinness Book of World Records. It was created in 1978 by American artist Gilbert Baker, who claimed to be influenced by Judy Garland singing ‘Over the rainbow.’

What the Pride flag colours mean :

Red : life
Orange : Healing
Yellow : sunlight
Green : nature
Turquoise : magic/ art
Blue : serenity/ harmony
Violet : spirit

Some flags have re-adopted the hot pink above the red, which represents sexuality.

EXTRA SOURCES : Eyewitness News, IOL, wikipedia.org, official Pride website