“Mr. Gay” founder Don Spradlin started the competition to combat pigeonholed conceptions of gay men. Ironically, some accuse the contest of perpetuating a different kind of stereotype.
“There’s a lot of gay guys in the closet because they buy into what the straight press promotes as the gay stereotypes, where they’ll publish a picture of a drag queen and say, ‘This is what all gay people look like,’” said Spradlin. “There were long running contests for drag queens and leather gays, but not for regular guys.”
But Mr. Gay is packed with contestants sporting tight six packs, large biceps and small Speedos.
“I do think that Mr. Gay is a hot body contest,” said Nicholas DeRoose, Temple student and gay rights activist. “It is reinforcing narrow stereotypes of what it means to be gay, which is basically the hot body. It blocks out an entire spectrum of the community that may be more effeminate, that may not be below 6 percent body fat.”
Spradlin says that, while sex appeal is necessary, there’s more to the competition. “For a guy to be in this contest, he’s going to be aware good looks are a big part of it, but we are successful in picking people who are charismatic, well-respected leaders,” he said.
Contestants in the two-day event compete in a question and answer session, evening wear and swimwear. “We’re not looking for showgirls. We wanted to find a spokesman,” Spradlin said.
Philly has become ‘gay center’
U.S. Mr. Gay is being held in Philadelphia for the second consecutive year, in part due to support it has received from the city.
“We wanted to move the contest around from city to city to get more exposure,” Spradlin said. “But we were very supported by the gay community and the city itself. They even closed the Liberty Bell monument and let us in there after hours to do photos and interviews.”
“Having been in San Francisco since the late ’70s, I can say that Philadelphia has become a very strong, fun destination. San Francisco used to be the only gay center in America and now there are several ... including Philadelphia.”
Don’t call it a pageant
Current U.S. Mr. Gay, Eddie Rabon, said “there’s a big pageant culture amongst ladies and I have a few really good girlfriends here in the city who did a lot of pageants and did really well in the Miss America system. They gave me some intensive interview preparation. Answering trivia questions in pageant format is a special skill.”
But Spradlin refuses to use the word. “If you look in dictionary, a ‘pageant’ is an empty event full of pomp and circumstance. If you look at ‘competition,’ it’s more about achieving success by being the best.”