Mr. Gay SA 2009 Charl van den Berg
In a statement, newly crowned Mr. Gay South Africa, Charl van den Berg, has said that nude pictures that he previously posed for did not affect his ability to be a role model. Below is his full statement to the judges and organisers of the event:
I usually would not respond to situations like these as I feel they tend to stem from misinformation, or misinterpretation of facts and therefore don’t need any justification as it would not change the minds of those select few who feed into such ‘news’. But it is because it challenges the credibility of not only the Competition and its Directors, but also the owners of Liberate Studios and every person who was involved in the photo shoots, in front of the camera as well as behind that I now have decided to release this statement.
I was raised to not be judgmental or prejudiced towards anybody, no matter their background, race, sexual orientation, status in society, or jobs they hold for that matter. I have always strived to uphold these values I was taught as a child.
When I was asked if I would like to do a photo shoot for a new company started up by an acquaintance, I had to think about it carefully. After serious consideration I made a decision to go ahead with the photo shoot. I knew the situation and also took into account the possible consequences that might come from my decision. As I have said in my personality synopsis, I strive to live life and experience the human experience in all its facets and so I chose to go ahead with the shoot (not to mention that it would also help me out of some financial strain at that stage).
Some people might think this was a terrible mistake to have made, as I work for one of the most prominent gay-owned and gay-friendly restaurant groups in Cape Town and therefore find myself in the public eye most of the time. Although some people were surprised at my choice after seeing the material (which was displayed at the Studio’s launch at a popular club in Cape Town), having known me for nearly three years, most of their views of me stayed the same and in fact I gained a greater respect from my peers for having the confidence to do it. Indeed I proved to them that just because I did a nude shoot, it didn’t make me less of a person, or mean that I had ‘stooped down’ to a substandard.
What I did gain from this experience however was a wider perspective and greater understanding about a section of our society which is often misunderstood, and therefore pre-judged by those who feel they know better. Fortunately I have learned in my life that you cannot judge unless you have walked in the same shoes as those whom you judge. And if you do judge, then it is usually out of your own insecurities or fears. I walked away from this experience a man who can now speak from an informed position, without prejudice towards anybody who has made this their livelihood ( please take note that I have not made a career out of this, but it was one experience I had). I am now able to stand up for that part of the community who do not always have a voice to defend themselves.
I know that it is the goal of this competition and its directors to select a candidate that can relate to everybody within the greater gay and lesbian society, no matter what your situation, or background or status etc. I believe that he should be somebody who speaks without condemnation, and who chooses to uplift those and support those around him in whatever their endeavours. I believe he should be somebody who is able to bridge the gap between differing mindsets and so bring consolidation to the gay community, which already has to fight so many battles to have a voice in this world. He should be somebody who is able to take a stand, unwaveringly and who is not moved by people’s opinions (we know how quickly these can change), but remains strong in his position as a leader and role model. This is why I chose to enter the Competition this year.
I do not feel it necessary to apologise to anybody or justify my actions. Those that choose to feed into such sensationalism tend to fade away quite fast and they soon become ‘yesterday’s news’. I will remain in my position, and I speak on behalf of the other two contestants (with their permission of course) that the photo shoots we did were maybe not something that is acceptable by the norm of society, but is a stark reality in our community (a reality which majority of gay men have no problem utilizing when the need calls). I do not see how this makes us any different to a person who for instance has his own private pictures on display on social networks like ‘gaydar’ or ‘manjam’ or ‘dudesnude’, to name but a few, or who sends his private pictures via mms or the like.
I do not intend to step on anybody’s toes with this statement but feel I have to bring to light the bigger picture here (yet while having the utmost respect for all parties involved).
I hope that this statement has served for the good of the Competition.
Charl van den Berg