'Mr. Gay' 2006: It's 'About the Whole Person'

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - One of the producers of the just concluded "Mr. Gay USA" said the weekend competition in Palm Springs, Calif., was much more than a contest about physical looks. In addition to the swimsuit and underwear modeling, there were interviews of the contestants and an athletic challenge, according to event producer Don Spradlin, because he said, "It is more about the whole person."

However, a spokesman for the American Family Association (AFA) said he was skeptical about the "Mr. Gay USA" contest. "When there is a competition designed strictly for the homosexual community, that tells me it's designed to get homosexuals together for sexual activities," Randy Sharp, director of special projects for the AFA, told Cybercast News Service.

"It is a case of birds of a feather flock together, similar to the Gay Olympic Games being held next July," Sharp said. "The homosexual community is looking for a way to get their kind together for different kinds of events. In other words, you want to get all of these studly homosexuals to have fun and games and try and make it legitimate by adding the air of a competition."

Similar contests had been held in many European countries, but this was the first "Mr. Gay" competition in the United States. It coincided with an international event and the same man, Jesse Bashem of San Diego, won both competitions.

Before Bashem won the "Mr. Gay USA" title, he also won a city competition, one of five such events produced by Spradlin and Thomas Roth. "We wanted to do this right. How do you go from nothing to something? We thought this would be a good start," Spradlin told Cybercast News Service.

Contestants competed in a rock climbing competition where they were judged by local rock climbing instructors on technique and aggressiveness. The entrants also competed to get the fastest finish time in an obstacle course set up by the Palm Springs Fire Department.

The second part of the competition featured contestants being judged on their appearance in a swimsuit and while modeling underwear. They were also asked one-on-one questions by each of the judges. Spradlin said the idea was for the judges to gain a better understanding of each man by asking them about how they had disclosed their homosexuality, their views on homosexuals in the media and changing stereotypes about homosexuality.

"We want to show people that this is the 'boy next door' - their neighbors, friends, and sons -- someone who can represent the gay community in a positive way," said Spradlin. "The winner will serve as a spokesman to raise the visibility of gay men, humanize gays in the media, create a positive role model and confront homophobia in today's culture."

The Desert Sun, a newspaper in Palm Springs, reported that Spradlin and Roth held the competition in Palm Springs because the city has the "first openly gay black mayor in America." Mayor Ron Oden was also a judge for the show.

Spradlin said the questions were an important part of the competition and that less than 20 percent of the total score was devoted to physical appearance. "People have been obsessed with body objectification and beauty for 40 or 50 years in straight culture, but looks are only part of it. That is why we have the questions and the athletic challenges," he said.

Spradlin hopes to continue the "Mr. Gay International" competition in future years and include five more cities in the local competition next year.

But Sharp of the American Family Association said the contests are "an opportunity to engage in activities which are very prevalent at these types of activities, and that is anonymous sex, casual sex, and wild parties.

"They are engaging in a lifestyle which is extremely dangerous and unhealthy," Sharp added, "and to celebrate it through competitions and giving it a name doesn't legitimize it in the eyes of everyday people."

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