For a nation that flips its wig every September over The Rose of Tralee, we were decidedly quieter earlier this month when Mr Gay Ireland, Guilherme Souza, made the top 10 of Mr Gay World.
With 21 delegates from around the world competing in the competition in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mr Gay Philippines taking the crown, 25-year old Souza became the first Irish contestant to place in the top 10 in five years, and he won the Face of MichaelGamePlan, meaning he will front the cosmetic brand’s new international campaign.
And while people might sneer at what they consider the antiquated notion of such competitions, Souza believes that it — and by proxy Mr Gay World, but forward powerful ideas of what the gay community can strive to be.
“I believe that the idea behind Mr Gay Ireland is to create an LGBT+ role model,” Souza tells me. “It’s almost like training to become an activist.
"Ireland is a safe place for most LGBT+ people, but we need someone speaking up for those who are voiceless.”
As a Brazilian man, he faced double the pressure, as it is not only the Irish community looking to what he is doing but also the Brazilian community in Ireland.
“It feels great to represent them all and show that if I can do it, they can too.”
First up was Mr Gay Europe, held in the Polish city of Poznan in March, where he finished in the top 5.
Mr Gay Europe wanted to make a statement by choosing a country that might not be the most progressive in terms of welcoming the LGBTQ+ community to host the contest.
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Today is the International Day Against #Homophobia, #Transphobia and #Biphobia #IDAHOTB Let’s stand together and be #LOUD and #PROUD with our bothers and sisters. It’s up to us to make a better community to all. #itsokay to be who you are! ❤️ 🏳️🌈 📸 @davidsharpart 👕 @primark.man
But, says Souza, they lacked funding and support. Most importantly, it lacked security.
“We couldn’t wear our sashes anywhere with the fear of being attacked by someone.”
Before the parade, there was a massive protest with hundreds of people all wearing black, some in masks, shouting hateful comments and holding offensive signs up.
“It was horrific seeing all that hate and ignorance towards us. The names they called us, the gestures, the hate was coming through their eyes. I’ve never seen so many armed riot police officers in all my life.
"The worst part was the police, you could see, some of them wanted to join the hateful crowd. After a lot of tension, stones and sweat, we made it to the parade and we could finally see the community.
"They needed us there. They needed us to make an impact and attract attention to their issues.”
Mr Gay World was a totally different experience.
He competed in a number of challenges through the week-long competition including the written test, national costume, formal wear and swimwear, and his St Patrick inspired national costume was one of the highlights of the finale.
“My family back home are part of the Brazilian Carnival circuit so I knew I needed to get the costume from there. It was all-handmade, every crystal was glued one by one.
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Swipe —-> To Reveal The Irish Luck! ☘️ My national costume for @mgworg I’ve inspired my costume in St. Patrick’s, as he is an Irish representation worldwide, even though he was not born in Ireland. Similar to my story, as a representation of Ireland internationally and a Brazilian born. The reveal was inspired in the carnival culture back home, and my sister @caramelittoficial as a former Brazilian carnival star 🌟 👸🏽 Made in Brazil by @caetanoliver It is all about the fantasy you create for yourself ⭐️
"The reveal under the cape was that I was almost naked except for a shamrock protecting my modesty.”
It was a big challenge, as he has never felt very confident showing his body.
“I was a chubby kid and that ghost still follows me around. I needed to empower myself and just do it.”
The contest itself allowed Souza to meet 21 other guys from all around the world, some with amazing work in activism.
“Although some were just looking for the spotlight.”
One of the challenges was to create a social campaign on social media. “Before Mr Gay Europe, I had seen other contestants working on their social campaigns.
Mr Gay England raising awareness for HIV, Mr Gay Denmark who is a trans man was also raising awareness about how hateful the world can be towards his people.
I knew that I had to make something that comes from my heart.
“I was abused when I was a child, and this impacted my life a lot. It brought me to dark places that I did not know I was strong enough to leave.
“My focus is on recovering from the trauma and supporting other victims by speaking out and making sure that the guilt that we feel for years get transferred to the predator.”
Despite all this positivity, Souza says the contest is too focused on social media influencers.
“It’s a bit controversial with the leadership idea since you cannot really single out a leader based on numbers from social media, which we know can be faked and toxic.”
He also noted the level of support some countries gave in comparison to our own.
“Some countries have a lot of sponsorship and money from their competitions in their own countries. The winner of this year’s contest, Mr Philippines, brought 40 producers with him, a makeup artist, a social media team, everything!
"The pageants over there have huge support. Having a team with you puts you in a better position, no matter how good the contestant is.”
He name-checks RuPaul, Billy Porter and Panti Bliss as his role models and says even after his reign is over he is going to continue stepping outside himself and unapologetically fighting for others.
“You don’t need to be HIV positive to support those who are, you don’t need to be trans to support trans people, you don’t need to be anything to help others to have dignity and respect.”