The crowning of its first Mr. Gay could be a turning point in China, where most LGBT people are still closeted
China has finally crowned its first Mr. Gay.
The nation declared Meng Fanyu its first-ever winner after a month-long series of events and performances, reports Pink News.
Fanyu, 27, declared the competition “a great platform to raise awareness of the LGBT community.”
This is the inaugural Mr. Gay China — one arm of an international franchise. Police had shut down a previous attempt to stage the event in 2010.
Organizer Kate Sun said a concentration on “being healthy, positive, and energetic” helped avoid a similar fate this year; HIV testing was also provided throughout. Additionally, the event avoided “links to politics. We just focus on creating fun events,” she said.
The successful staging of Mr. Gay China is seen as a coup for LGBT activists in a year of setbacks. Earlier this year, China banned all television programming depicting gay and lesbian couples, introducing guidelines that prohibited portrayals of “abnormal sexual relationships and sexual behavior.” The ban also includes incest, sexual assault, extramarital affairs, “witchcraft practices and feudal superstition,” and “grotesque criminal cases.”
In February, censors declared a web series that featured queer youth in high school, Addicted, as “unfit for viewing.” It was banned before it concluded.
Though gay sex was decriminalized in 1997, LGBT people have no protections under the law in China. Same-sex marriage is not legal, and only 39 percent of the country’s population believes it should be, according to a recent survey by WorkForLGBT.
Tall, tattooed and striking, the 27-year-old won by a landslide. The four-week competition has been a rather raunchy beauty pageant; a continual catwalk of muscly, well-groomed men in tiny underwear concealing “props” such as bananas, condoms and even cartons of milk. As a dance teacher Meng says he isn’t afraid to peel his clothes off on-stage in the name of the gay community.
“Something like this event is a great platform to raise awareness of the LGBT community,” he says, still looking slightly stunned at having won. “Many people don’t really know what LGBT is, and coming out can still be difficult, so you really have to prove yourself to be an upstanding person.”
A previous attempt to hold the competition in 2010 was shut down by the authorities, but in 2016 the event met with zero resistance. Kate Sun, from organisers Tontou, says they have avoided censure by focusing on core values of “being healthy, positive and energetic”, even offering free HIV tests at the club. “This competition has no links to politics; we just focus on creating fun events,” she adds.
The LGBT community is slowly gaining acceptance in China, especially in cosmopolitan Shanghai, which hosted its eighth Pride festival last month. But the situation is complex – for many a gay club is still the only place they can express their sexuality. Even among the Mr Gay China candidates, surprisingly few are out.