UPDATE: Meet the Mr Gay Canada finalists
Feb 12, 4:45pm
Danny Papadatos was named Mr Gay Canada Feb 7 at the Whistler WinterPride festival. Papadatos, from Saskatoon, beat seven other contestants to represent Canada at Mr Gay World in Antwerp, Belgium.
The judges included RuPaul’s Drag Race star Chad Michaels and Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
In the public-speaking portion of the competition, judges asked Papadatos whether he thought it was right to out gay celebrities. Papadatos said no. He talked about how difficult it was coming out to his traditional Greek family and said that his experience showed him that no one should have to come out of the closet unexpectedly.
WinterPride organizer Dean Nelson brought Mr Gay Canada to Whistler in 2008. So far, only Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg and Saskatoon hold regional competitions.
— Niko Bell
Thurs, Jan 24
Looking for substance over style, the contestants in this year’s Mr Gay Canada competition are expected to know as much about the world around them as they are to look good in their Speedos.
“We really wanted Mr Gay Canada to be more than a simple beauty pageant, with an importance put on things like human rights, community involvement and public speaking,” explains producer Ken Coolen, who also says he is a realist when it comes to a balance of beauty and brains.
“We may be trying to engage a younger community to be involved in things like bullying and safe-sex issues, but we are also trying to entertain audiences, and we try to do that with a fun and flamboyant show,” he says.
Xtra caught up with the eight contestants from across Western Canada as they prepare to vie for the title this February at WinterPride.
Rylie Moore (Victoria)
With a master’s degree already under his belt and a doctorate in clinical psychology underway, 25-year-old Rylie Moore sees the Mr Gay Canada title as an opportunity to talk to the queer community about mental health.
“Mental-health services are greatly underused because people are embarrassed to access them or simply don’t know they are available,” says Moore, who is studying at the University of Victoria. “That is especially true for the LGBTQ community that has to deal with its own unique set of issues like coming out and bullying. I’m excited to be able to use the Mr Gay Victoria platform to help let people know there are services out there to help.”
Before studying the brain, Moore’s brawn took him to the hockey rink. Drafted to play on a Junior B team at age 17, he declined the invitation to concentrate on his last year of high school and to protect the secret of his sexual orientation.
“I was feeling the pressure of living the façade of a straight teen and imagining what it would have been like to move away, and if the team found out that I was gay was a terrifying thought for me at that age,” he explains.
Despite aspirations to play hockey professionally, Moore quit after graduating from high school, a move he now calls liberating.
“Teenagers can be awful to each other,” he says, “and I did not want to have to endure any additional discrimination and fear to be in that situation. I loved playing hockey and I do miss playing, but I knew that there were other opportunities out there in life that would inspire me.”
Mike Ireland (Victoria)
Ginger-haired Mike Ireland found himself a last-minute entrant for Mr Gay Victoria. Spurred on by a friend who insisted he compete, the 24-year-old signed up the day before the competition.
With virtually no time to prepare, he found himself more concerned about what his fellow contestants would be like. “I didn’t know what to expect from them. Were they going to be cutthroat or competitive? I’m not a competitive person myself, but everyone turned out to be so amazing and warm, lovely gentlemen,” he says.
It was the opportunity to be both an advocate and a role model for his local community that ultimately drove Ireland to compete. “There are very few gay role models in our local community, and it would be awesome to be one for kids coming out of the closet,” says Ireland, whose own coming out at 15 was relatively easy.
“It would be the ultimate chance to give back to the community, and while Victoria may be a small pond, winning would go a long way to prove that heroes and role models can come from anywhere.”
Danny Papadatos (Saskatoon)
At 28, training manager Danny Papadatos may not be the oldest of the current crop of contestants, but he comes with a host of life experiences.
After coming out at age 18, Papadatos was kicked out of his traditional Greek family and onto welfare. Forced to fend for himself, he took strength from the gay community that embraced him where his family would not.
Fast-forward several years and Papadatos has since reconciled with his estranged family after being diagnosed with cancer. A two-time cancer survivor who just recently received a clean bill of health, Papadatos looks on his near-death experience as the catalyst for his newly found carpe diem attitude.
“Life is simply too short to say no,” Papadatos says, when asked why he decided to compete for the title of Mr Gay Saskatchewan. “I’ve come a long way as a person myself, and I’m proud of who I am today. It took me a long time to get here.”
In the last few years, Papadatos has shed almost 70 pounds, to the point where he isn’t so self-conscious at baring it all onstage. He's worked with Saskatoon Pride, helped raise funds for queer charities, and was a top 48 finalist on Canadian Idol in 2004.
“It’s not easy being queer,” he says. “The nice thing about growing up in Saskatchewan compared to major centres like Vancouver is the strength that it takes to build community. It takes a lot of heart, and I am very proud of what I have helped build locally.”
Cody Gurash (runner-up, Saskatoon)
Saskatoon hairstylist Cody Gurash is out to prove that anyone can win in a competition like Mr Gay Canada.
“I feel like such an average kind of joe,” the 25-year-old says, “and if I won, it would be really cool for other people like me to see that you don’t need to be someone in a position of power or celebrity to do something like this.”
Gurash says he entered the competition to get out of his comfort zone but notes that his interest in competing was piqued after he was featured as The Gay Bachelor on a local radio station in 2012.
“I got so many emails from people who were super supportive about how proud they were of me,” he says. “I didn’t think I was doing anything extraordinary at the time, but it was so great to be able to have made an impact.”
Jonathan Kindzierski (Winnipeg)
With a full course schedule, double-theatre major Jonathan Kindzierski wasn’t looking to add anything to his already busy calendar, but after realizing that the usually active Winnipeg gay community wasn’t stepping up as it normally did, he decided to throw his hat in the ring.
“I really wanted to focus primarily on school this year and didn’t want to split my attention, but I realized it was the first year that this competition was happening in Winnipeg and wanted to help make it a success. I’ve not changed my course load; I’m just not doing yoga this year,” the 26-year-old University of Winnipeg student laughs.
He came out to his mother while she was helping him move a heavy piece of furniture. “My mom was helping me move in with what she thought was a roommate, but it really was my boyfriend,” he says. “She was helping me lift a heavy couch down a flight of stairs. She was at the top holding the couch and I was at the bottom. I figured that if she let go when I told her it would mean it wasn’t going to go well. She didn’t drop the couch.”
Garret Schreyer (runner-up, Winnipeg)
Representing rural gays is 24-year-old nickel miner Garret Schreyer, from Thompson, Manitoba. The runner-up in the Mr Gay Manitoba competition, Schreyer says he is a little overwhelmed by his second-place win.
“I was astonished that people actually heard me,” he says. “I’ve considered myself a bit of an outcast in a lot of ways, but I’ve become much bolder and comfortable with myself after living in Thompson.”
Schreyer says it was the experience of getting gaybashed in the small mining community of 13,000 that forced him to be more comfortable in his own skin as a gay man, and ultimately gave him the courage he needed to compete for the title of Mr Gay Manitoba.
“I realized that no one else was going to defend me and I had to stand up and protect myself. I had to stop worrying about what others thought of me,” he says.
Rather than retreat, Schreyer says he is out and receiving tremendous support from his hometown friends and co-workers as he vies for the national title.
“I’d like to win to show gay or straight people that it is okay to be different,” he says. “It shouldn’t matter who you love; it should be more than that.”
Brandon Hamilton (Vancouver)
Personal trainer and fitness instructor Brandon Hamilton says he was approached to compete last year but didn’t feel ready to take on the challenge. This year, the 28-year-old says, a perfect storm of international events convinced him to compete.
“I thought it was a good time, given US President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage and Uganda’s anti-homosexual bill stripping away basic human rights,” he explains.
Closer to home, his own struggles have helped shape him and prepare him for a run at the title. When he came out in Grade 11, he says, his peers were accepting enough, but his family kicked him out.
“I attended what was thought to be a pretty rough school in Esquimalt, and I thought I might have a difficult time coming out, but I was pretty much accepted and even took a boy to the prom. It was my parents who had the problem, and they kicked me out of the house,” he says. “I ended up having to find a job while completing high school to support myself. I had some pretty big barriers that I had to work through, and now that I am succeeding in life, I want to be able to share that with people.”
Josh Rimer (runner up, Vancouver)
At 35, YouTube marketer Josh Rimer is the oldest contestant this year. “I actually dismissed the idea of becoming a contestant at first because I thought it was just a beauty pageant for 21-year-olds with a six pack,” he admits.
Convinced by a friend that the competition wasn’t just about “being pretty,” Rimer says he now embraces the idea of winning the title so he can add more weight to his online activism.
“I use my online presence a lot to help further gay causes, and having the title would change that, so it wasn’t just this silly comedian looking for people to sign a petition. The title would give me a bigger platform and more credibility to talk about those things that matter to me,” he says. “Besides, a win as the oldest contestant without a six-pack would go a long way to show that this community isn’t just focused on body image.”