International Mr. Gay: More Than Just a Pretty Face?

by Christopher Sandlin

EDGE Gulf Coast Regional Editor

Friday February 1, 2008

Fill a room with 20 intelligent, attractive and well-muscled gay men from around the world, and it's no surprise that at least a little controversy and cattiness will arise. The third International Mr. Gay (IMG) competition crowned it's winner Jan. 20 in Hollywood. Carlos Fabian Melia, of Argentina, took home the top honor and $12,000 in cash and prizes. After the competition, Melia made his first trip to Dallas for some promotion, time with friends, and a little rest and relaxation before his long flight back to Buenos Aires. Melia's late entrance into the competition, after the late exit of a different Argentine candidate, raised eyebrows both among contestants and critics who claim the event is little more than a beauty pageant.

"There was somebody else appointed for this year," Melia said. "I was supposed to be competing for next year but they found out this guy was from Paraguay, not Argentina...also some other things not to talk about." Those "other things" Melia was hesitant to talk about might concern the allegations that Jorge Schmeda, the actual Mr. Gay Argentina, was disqualified from the competition due to his career in the adult film industry (including such cinematic gems as Bang That Ass and Rush and Release).

"I'm not concerned about what people do for career choice," said Josh Robers, America's contestant in the competition. "But I'm not sure I'd want an adult film actor representing our culture. What we're trying to do is break stereotypes, present a positive image to the community. Frankly I'm not sure if an adult film actor is the right image."

Chris Crain, former editor of such gay publications as the Washington Blade and Southern Voice, now lives with his Brazilian partner in South America and knew both Melia and Schmeda before the competition. "The Mr. Gay International contest is, in one sense, a creative excuse to show off hot gay guys from different countries, the same as any pageant," Crain said. "Living in both Brazil and Argentina during the preliminaries of the competition, I saw a mixed reaction. Some people seemed to take genuine pride in a representative of their country and gay community going to compete internationally. That was more the case in Brazil, in both S?o Paulo and Rio. In Buenos Aires, on the other hand, most guys seemed to think it reinforced why they don't associate with "the gay scene" anyway, because it is (in their view) superficial and obsessed with looks. I don't know the particulars about whether the original Argentina entrant was born in Paraguay, but I can confirm that he has lived a long time and is very much a part of the Buenos Aires gay community. And it's a bit ridiculous to suggest the "gay porn past" didn't disqualify him, considering all the press it got just before he got yanked. This was Vanessa Williams all over again, no mistake about it!"

Melia maintains that IMG contestants are chosen less for looks and more for their community involvement, and that the "Aussie Life Guard" and sand castle building portion of IMG are an important part of the competition. "Mainly it's for what you've done in your country, how you help the global gay community," Melia said. "For example, I give one percent out to charity each month." Melia's travel agency, Pride Travel, not only caters to foreign tourists coming to Argentina but also acts as a community resource center for tourists and locals interested in Buenos Aires gay life. Pride Travel was one of the city's first gay businesses. Melia said Argentina, particularly Buenos Aires ("a 100% friendly city"), is an easy place to be gay. "If you go to the gay places in Argentina you'll see they're running low on people sometimes because there are so many gay-friendly places to go around the city," he said. "I think that there are other countries that would need more help than Argentina. We are the only country in South America that has civil unions for gay couples. I hope we can spread that."

New York-based candidate Josh Robers was this year's Mr. Gay USA and named Mr. Congeniality at IMG. Robers read about the competition on the gay site Connexion. After learning about the competition and it's mission statement, he decided it would be a good way to get involved in the world. "I think there are a lot of people who have misconceptions," Robers said. "It's not all about parading around in your swimsuit. That's part of it. It's more how you wear it and how you handle the pressure and deal with the situation. I thought it would be a fun way to meet people around my age. I met people who want to make a change and weren't sure how to go about doing it." Robers is quite passionate about his community involvement, much of which is with organizations providing medical help to HIV patients.

Robers said one of his most memorable experiences from the IMG competition was seeing some contestants experience gay life in a way they can't in their home countries. "Some of the delegates had never been to the U.S. or a place where being gay is okay," Robers said, referring in part to the contestants from the Philippines and India. "We were wearing our pink bracelets and our sashes, walking through West Hollywood. It was really an amazing experience to be around these delegates who had never been around that type of lifestyle. But to see these other people who had never experienced that, to see their faces, to see that it can happen, was amazing. Hopefully it will trickle down to their country."

"Some of the delegates had never been to the U.S. or a place where being gay is okay. It was really an amazing experience to be around these delegates who had never been around that type of lifestyle." Josh Robers, Mr. Gay USA

Complete list of winners:

International Mr. Gay 2008 is Argentina (Carlos Fabian Melina)

1st Runner Up is Venezuela (Juan Bracho)

2nd Runner Up is UK (Mark Edward Carter)

Swimwear is Venezuela (Juan Bracho)

Mr. Popular - most online votes went to Brazil (Mark Edward Carter)

Mr. Congeniality is USA (Josh Robers)

Mr. Philanthropy is Cuba (Iran Montego)

Mr. Photogenic is Argentina (Carlos Fabian Melina)

IMG competition benefits Noble Beast Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) which depends on donations to support the Foundation's Mission, which is to "Advocate International Equal Rights by confirming the essential nature and contributions of gay men to a healthy society."

On the web:

Christopher Sandlin is the Chief Correspondent (Gulf Coast) with EDGE. His work has been published in The Dallas Morning News, International Herald Tribune and other local, national and international newspapers and and magazines. He can be reached at [email protected].