HRC Blog

Zimbabwe’s “Mr Gay” Rep Withdraws from Competition

The following post comes from HRC Digital Media Intern Eric Cameron:

More than 30 African nations have laws criminalizing LGBT relationships, and aggressive anti-LGBT sentiment makes life difficult and dangerous even where homosexuality is not expressly outlawed.

Bearing this in mind, it’s all the more impressive that this year’s Mr. Gay World competition has designated four African finalists for the competition -- the highest number in contest history. The contestants -- from Ethiopia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa -- are also the first black Africans selected for the MGW stage.

Over the weekend, the delegate from Zimbabwe made the decision to withdraw from the competition.

Taurai Zhanje announced that he would not be attending this year’s contest in Johannesburg, South Africa, citing unspecified “personal reasons.” Coenie Kukkuk, the contest’s Director for Africa, praised Zhanje for taking a “brave stand” against LGBT oppression, despite intense anti-gay sentiment within his own country. “We are sad to lose Taurai,” Kukkuk said, “but in Africa, the personal sacrifice for gay and human rights is sometimes too much to expect from people.”

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) also praised Zhanje’s courage. “With the intense climate of homophobia existing in Zimbabwe and the restrictive legislation that makes it difficult for lesbian, gay bisexual [and] transgender people to be open about their sexuality and to use public space in safety, Taurai has exhibited immense courage and boldness by entering the Mr. Gay World contest.”

In December, President Obama directed all U.S. government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct. Work in Africa is ongoing, but greater recognition for LGBT Africans in U.S. foreign policy and even on the Mr. Gay World stage is some marker of progress.

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