BY NATASHA BARSOTTI - First there was celebration over the participation of the first black African contestants in the Mr Gay World competition set for April in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Now the news is anything but celebratory after Zimbabwean contestant Taurai Zhanje withdrew from the contest over the past weekend because of what Coenie Kukkuk, the director of Mr Gay World Africa, vaguely deemed the political landscape ahead of the country's general election.

Zhanje's withdrawal coincides with the unapologetically homophobic Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's decision to mark his 88th year by going on an anti-gay rant at a birthday rally following British Prime Minister David Cameron's threat a few months ago to pull aid from countries that did not safeguard the rights of queers. 

Mugabe's rejoinder? "We reject that outright and say to hell with you."

Mugabe, who has called gays "worse than dogs" in the past, told the rally in a televised speech that he would never allow gay rights in Zimbabwe. He has also criticized his major political opponent, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, for supporting gay rights.

On the heels of Mugabe's nonsensical nattering and the Zimbabwean contestant's withdrawal, Mr Gay Ethiopia, Robel Gizaw Hailu, has also reportedly fled his home because of death threats and does not plan to return to his country, even though he still intends to compete in the global pageant, according to Gay Star News.

The saga of persecution doesn't end there: the first ever Mr Gay Namibia, Wendelinus Hamutenya, also faced down an apparent homophobic attack in December when he was followed by two men and attacked with a bottle. He, too, will remain in the competition.  

"I do not think LGBTI people in the West really have an idea what black LGBTI Africans have to deal with on a daily basis. That is why most of them still are, and will remain, closeted," Kukkuk told Gay Star News.  

Canada's representative at the Mr Gay World competition is Vancouver-based Thomas Egli, who emerged winner of the Mr Gay Canada competition held at the recently concluded WinterPride festival in Whistler, BC.

The Mr Gay World competition is scheduled to run April 4 to 8.


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