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

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

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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.

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