Anyone who was involved with the recent Mr. Gay World contest, or attended the Grand Finale in Johannesburg, couldn’t have missed the “gentle giant” with the Arnold Schwarzenegger accent.

Although German-born, the 32-year-old Andreas Derleth represented his current home of New Zealand where he lives with his civil union partner. The judges clearly felt that he was not only impressive in his superbly sculpted physical stature, but had all the other qualities required to be crowned Mr. Gay World 2012.

Since taking the title and returning home Andreas has been feted, but has also come under fire from an unexpected quarter – the gay media. In a post on the influential and perpetually snarky U.S. blog Queerty, and other sites, he was accused of promoting “masculine homosexuality worldwide”. This after being quoted in an interview that he wants to erase “the image of us [gay men] running around with handbags”.

Andreas, who works in retail operations project management in the city of Auckland, spoke to Mambaonline about the controversy, his difficult coming out experience and what he hopes to achieve as Mr. Gay World 2012.

Andreas, why did you decide to enter Mr. Gay World?

I saw it as an opportunity to initiate changes for the better. I hope to be able to make a difference by travelling and meeting people, talking to them and initiating public discussion of the LGBT community as well as promoting gay and human rights.

Did you learn anything from the African delegates, specifically Mr. Ethiopia and Mr. Namibia?

I learned about their countries and the problems they face. I think both of them were incredibly brave for taking part and I respect them for standing up despite the difficulties and abuse they are exposed to. I liked both of them very much and call them my friends.

How do you think an event like Mr. Gay World can have a positive impact?

It creates worldwide media attention. While not all of it is positive, at the very least it creates awareness of issues. My dream is that we will one day all live in a society where a young gay person has no fear of telling anybody that he or she is gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.

How do you personally plan to play a part in that as Mr. Gay World?

Well, I like to under-promise and over-deliver. At this stage my planning for the 16 months ahead is not set in stone yet and I prefer not to talk about ideas being discussed between me and the directors of Mr. Gay World yet. However, I already have and I will use every chance I get to do interviews and use them to inform about situations regarding the LGBT community around the globe that are deplorable.

Dealing with the media can be a double edged sword. You’ve been slammed for apparently saying in an interview that “masculine” men should be promoted as the gay ideal…

My comment was taken out of context and the article written in a sensationalist style. What I said to the reporter was that there are stereotypes that all gay men only party, all gay men take drugs and all gay men run around with handbags. And I said that while imitating a straight guy who has a problem with gays with my voice and gestures. Our community is as diverse as any other group of people and that is good. What I wanted to make clear was that there are many different facets of LGBT life; you are free to choose to be whoever you want to be, but you don’t have to be anything you don’t want to be. I have effeminate friends, I have a friend who is drag queen, I have less-effeminate friends and I love and respect them all.

How has this criticism affected you?

I’ve had many bad things from conservative straight groups and persons thrown at me which didn’t affect me much, but the merciless exploitation of one sentence without the benefit of research and enquiry from within our own community saddened me.

As a role model, what qualities do you bring to the table?

I believe my biggest strength is that I am a strategic planner and know how to utilise the Pareto principle [that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes] . I also see myself as a kind and considerate person. I look after myself, do regular sport, do no drugs, have an interest in what happens in the world and an open mind. I will utilise the connections I have to get access to people with influence.

Tell us about your coming out.

I was 22 and had been hiding my sexual identity for almost 10 years. I noticed that I fancied men when I was about 13, but since this wasn’t a topic being talked about at all I only realised that what I was feeling is called ‘gay’ when I was 15. I did not feel I could talk to anybody because the concept of being gay was taboo. I was a shy and desperate young man for many years, longing for affection and love with another man but lived alone in fear instead. It got to a point where my desperation mounted so much that it almost crushed me.

You’ve mentioned before that you were almost suicidal…

It was when I was 22 and had been hiding for too long. I saw no future. At this point I could not go any further but I talked to a friend. From there, step by step, I gained confidence. I became a different person. Self-confident, happy, strong and able to be strong for others. First gay friends, first gay bars and clubs and the realisation that yes my life will be different in some ways but no worse than any other one’s.

Was your coming out well accepted by your friends and family?

Almost all my friends accepted me the way I am, even some I thought would not be able to cope. For some members in my family it was a learning process and still is to some extent. This publicity [of winning Mr. Gay World has] now opened some old wounds. Some homophobic comments posted on online articles also contributed to their discomfort.

How do you deal with those kinds of comments?

A friend told me “One of the hardest things about being on the top is actually to rise above the s**t that hits your face….” I won’t fold or crumble because of nasty comments or blogs but I wish I could keep this away from my loved ones.

What message do you have for younger gay guys who are the victims of bullying?

When you get bullied, firstly realise that you are not at fault. People bullying you are usually doing it because they have issues with themselves. A strong, good person has no need to talk badly to or about others, but is free of fear; accepting others the way they are and is thrilled to see them grow.

So what do you think someone should do in that situation?

While you will not be able to avoid these bullies altogether – they might be your class or workmates – you have two options: confront if you are comfortable in doing so. In some cases they might not realise that they are stepping over the line. Or then avoid them. In any case, be sure to let it not get you down and surround yourself with true friends whenever possible.

And any coming out advice?

If you are not out yet and scared, I’d suggest you make contact with a person you trust. Alternatively there are many LGBT organisations around you can turn to and they can refer you to youth groups where you can meet people who know exactly how you feel and these organisations will also be able to give you professional advice. This is important as each individual’s situation is different and generic advice is almost impossible.

What qualities do you look for in a man?

Most importantly, a kind and considerate person. Self-confidence and a positive outlook on life in general are desirable. Drama-free and best intentions count. What might attract initially is looks, but what keeps you going and happy is personality. Having said that, my Mr. Right does not let himself go, neither physically nor mentally. He looks after himself and has plans and dreams.

Tell us about your partner Tom.

He’s a fantastic man who never stops inspiring me. He has all of these qualities and he is very smart and hot, too. I am very glad and thankful to be with him. He gives me strength but is not afraid to challenge me. I enjoy every single day with him.

How did you meet and how long have you been together?

We met right after I came to New Zealand in February 2008. And on the 11th day of the 11th month in 2011 we had our Civil Union.

What were your impressions of South Africa?

It was actually my second time in South Africa. I have been in Cape Town before and I have many South African friends in New Zealand. From a tourist point of view I find South Africa to be a great travel destination. I met many wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed visiting Johannesburg.

What do you think of our men?

A good mix of all sorts of characters. I found South African men to be sociable, welcoming and friendly.

Other than winning, what was the highlight of your Mr. Gay World experience?

Meeting strangers from all over the world and making friends. Each and every person associated with Mr. Gay World I met was a pleasure to meet. They were all outstanding personalities.

Boxers or briefs? Briefs Country or the city? City
Hotel or camping? Hotel Wine or beer? Beer
Pizza or sushi? Pizza Madonna or Gaga? Madonna (and not because I celebrate my birthday on the same day)
Chocolate or fruit? Chocolate Dogs or cats? Cats
Cinema or DVDs at home? Cinema Bars or nightclubs? Bars

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