Op-ed: Mr. Gay South Africa Is a Critical Role Model

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com November 29 2011 6:38 PM ET

Johannesburg — In a country where kids “believe that being
homosexual is a social death sentence” perhaps the next Mr. Gay South Africa
can be an example of what’s possible.

Lance Weyer, a political representative for the Democratic
Alliance from East London, won the title to Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 in
Johannesburg on Saturday night. Weyer is a Buffalo City Metropolitan
Municipality Council member in the Eastern Cape and serves on the Health and
Public Safety Standing Committee as well as the Special Programs Strategic
Committee.

The 24-year-old elected official was an audience favorite during
a packed grand finale at the Lyric, Gold Reef City. And he walked away with the
Bone Wear Underwear Model prize.

South Africa is a country that boasts a fully inclusive
constitution, where sexual orientation and gender identity are protected
against discrimination. However while tolerance is the law, acceptance of LGBT
people is still a major hurdle, as cultural norms have yet to change.  It is a country where the rape of
lesbian women for so-called curative purposes is endemic, and suicide related
bullying is as problematic as the rest of the world. 

In his finalist profile on the Mr. Gay South Africa website,
Weyer said, “Mr. Gay South Africa isn’t just about being a pretty face, it’s
also about finding a representative for the community who can help to bring
about change. I’d like to be Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 as I’d like to be a role
model to South African LGBTI youth.”

The fact that Weyer is a political figure is likely to
provide even more visibility to the title and the opportunities it has created
to enhance recognition of LGBT people in a country that has a fully accepting
constitution but has yet to fully embrace the LGBT community on a cultural
level.

I contacted Lance soon after the event and while still
caught up in the excitement of his win, he told me that from the outset he
wanted to be Mr. Gay South Africa so that he could be a role model to South
African LGBT youth.

“Too many young people resort to suicide and substance
abuse because they believe that being homosexual is a social death sentence,”
he said. “The youth need suitable role models to look up to, who they can be
proud of, and who can help them come to terms with their sexual orientation
without fear. I believe I can be this person — someone the youth can look up to
and admire. If the youth can see that I can be a successful self-confident
person, they can realize that they can also be."

Mr. Gay South Africa is a heavily promoted role in that
country and the title holder takes his job of educating, informing and
campaigning to the public at large. Weyer will represent South Africa in the
upcoming Mr. Gay World 2012 competition, which will be held in Johannesburg
next April. South African holders have won two consecutive world titles, with
Charl van den Berg and Francois Nel, taking first place for 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“You should definitely come to Mr. Gay World!”  said Weyer. “ I think my position as an
elected public representative will add to my ability to address issues that
LGBTI people face and also illustrate to the greater community that LGBTI are
just as normal as everyone else and can also contribute positively to their
communities.”

MELANIE NATHAN is a lawyer and human rights activist who
is author of the
GAY U.S.A. the Blog, which is run in conjunction with
GAY U.S.A. the Movie.