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