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Saturday 11 April 2015

Mr Gay NZ: Why I quit Mr Gay World

Posted in: Community
By staff - 23rd September 2014

Mr Gay New Zealand, Troy Williams
After two Mr Gay New Zealands had taken the Mr Gay World title in consecutive years, all eyes were on this year's New Zealand entrant, Troy Williams, a lawyer by training and now studying medicine in Auckland.

But he didn't make it to the final and the event organisers claimed to Daily News that he had been kicked out due to “alcohol abuse” and for “transgressing the rules.”

They alluded to some sort of fracas following a beach photo shoot, suggesting Williams had been drunk and unmanageable. Further questioned by Daily News, the Mr Gay World organisation's international spokesperson, Coenie Kukkuk, simply said that he had seen an email from the organiser of the event in Rome which bore out the allegations against Williams and he dismissively stated that he thought that concluded the matter.

In the meantime had revealed that Mr Gay Australia had also pulled out of the contest. His claims of incompetent organising and bullying were denied by the international Mr Gay World people, who bizarrely dismissed his objections as basically amounting to a disagreement over a lack of clean towels in his accommodation.

With more questions than answers hanging in the air ten days ago sent a short series of follow-up questions to Kukkuk who said he would arrange replies. To date he has not done so.

Williams has arrived back in New Zealand and he spoke to to give his side of the controversy and to refute the disturbing allegations made by the Mr Gay World organisers against him.


Starting at the start, what were Williams' objectives, what did he understand he would be experiencing and achieving by going to Mr Gay World and competing?

"I guess the statement on their website gives an indication of what it sounded like. I didn't have a fixed idea in my head of what it would be but I was seeing it as a kind of professional leadership style conference, something akin to various conferences I've helped organise for young emerging lawyers over in Australia... where you have various set days where you talk and are educated about various things, where there are various social activities. There would obviously be a competition element to it as well, similar to what we did for the Mr Gay New Zealand contest."

Was he realistic? Judge for yourself. The Mr Gay World website prominently states: “ Mr Gay World celebrates the pride and rights of the International Gay Male. MGW’s visionary pillars are friendship, diversity and respect! The man selected will be a role model and ambassador for young gay men of the world.”

Further in they talk of the objectives being to: “inspire and empower gay men to come together in a public performance that would show the world that being gay encompasses a broad spectrum. The mission to demonstrate that both inward beauty and physical appearance are equally important as is leadership and confidence... that by bringing these men together they would share their experiences to open both each others’ as well as the public’s eyes that in many regions on our planet being gay is a challenge and a fight for basic human rights.”

Underpinning these objectives is the organisers' continuing insistence on calling the contestants 'delegates.'

But Williams says these goals were absent in the actual event, an observation strongly backed up by Mr Gay Australia.

Prior to flying half way round the world courtesy of sponsors Wireless Nation, Williams had had to arrange to miss lectures and an important exam and to check arrangements for contestants' partners.

“I'd sent three emails to the organiser,” he says, “trying to get confirmation that I was participating which I needed for various university issues, confirmation of things that partners could and couldn't come to, confirming what time we were supposed to arrive, would anyone be meeting me at the airport, those kind of things... and I got no response to any of the emails.”

Accommodation at Camping Village Roma

When he touched down he had been travelling for almost two days and was tired and jet-lagged, as other long-distance contestants must have been. There was no one at the airport to welcome or advise contestants so he and his partner, who was travelling with him, and others, had to work out their own way of finding the accommodation and venue. “I don't know whether it was because we'd been travelling for 44 hours and jet lag but already it just didn't feel right.”

They got his partner checked into a comfortable hotel then Williams went on to the accommodation set up for contestants by the organisers.

The event accommodation was... Williams pauses wryly, “grim, for want of a better word. It was a budget backpackers on the outskirts of Rome, sharing the room with someone else, which wasn't too much of a problem but you're talking about something like 1 metre x 2 metres confinement, kind of like a prison cell. I looked up online and they were spending all of eighteen euros [$NZ28] a night per person on accommodation and anyone who's travelled in that part of the world will tell you what that gets you... and it's not much.”

Last year, he says, the contestants were in a five-star hotel, and before that in normal hotels, “but these were mobile trailer things, a bit like caravans, on wheels, and each one was divided into two or three rooms so when anyone moved in one room the whole thing moved and everyone else could feel it.” With two contestants squeezed in to each room “you're kind of bouncing around the whole time you're in there.”

“There was one very pre-loved towel each and you had to buy your own toilet paper and soap. The showers were two vans connected so if someone turned on the hot water somewhere it goes cold elsewhere so every morning everyone's spinning knobs trying to get hot water.”

If the accommodation had been the only issue “you could just have sucked it up... you wouldn't have been happy about it but..."


Contestants, or as the organisers insisted on calling them 'delegates', filtered in throughout the day.

“That first evening they had welcoming cocktails and dinner, Williams recounts. "There were various forms that we had to fill out and sign and people were pointing out errors on the forms but were told just to sign them anyway because we wouldn't get any dinner until everyone had filled out their forms! The following briefing session was randomly staged right throughout the night. We were very tired and some guys went off to bed but basically the rest of us waited up until 1 in the morning. Then the sleeping guys were dragged back out of bed at that hour for us to be told what time to get up in the morning and be given a bag with t-shirts and clothes to wear and various things, something they could have done more simply and much earlier.”

“It didn't have very much of a professional vibe about it at all,” Williams says.

The first day, Monday, was scheduled to be a tour of Rome's sights, which might have been pretty fabulous?

“No,” Williams laughs. “It could have been but basically we were just loaded into vans and dropped off at one end of town and left to wander down to a fixed meeting point where we were to meet with the deputy mayor of Rome. So we had three hours of wandering through the city. If [last year's Mr Gay New Zealand and Mr Gay World] Chris Olwage hadn't been there no one would have known what we were looking at or why because there was no explanation... it was just wander and 'Here looks like a good place to take a couple of photos.' Then'Let's wander this way now.'”

The contestants got to meet the deputy mayor “and it was quite good, I was impressed to be there and one of the councillors was quite involved in gay rights so she was keen to have us there and it was good for us to be able to do our bit for the cause.”

“By that time it was half way through the day and we were given lunch... well, we were given a piece of bread and a slice of meat, sort of prison rations, then off round the Colosseum. But people were starting to get a bit tired and grumpy... it was 31 degrees and we were walking around all day with, like, no food, no water.”


That night, Williams says, “we had another briefing session where one of the more galling instances occurred where Tore [Aasheim], the organiser, counted everyone up and said: 'Right, not everyone's here so stand up those people that are here without their assigned room mates.' Then: 'You go stand in the corner... on the first night you were told you shouldn't be anywhere without your room mate, like dinner, breakfast, briefing sessions.' Having to stand in the 'naughty corner' when we had expected we were going to be at a professional-type leadership event, well, was that really necessary? I mean, we were adults and some people were turning up like just a couple of minutes late, not like half an hour or anything."

"The following day they had us scheduled to do a photographic challenge section in the morning, then have lunch and do a session for the No H8 campaign down at the beach, which was about an hour-long bus ride away. The guys from No H8 were very organised and professional and did what they needed to do in the morning at the same time as we did the challenge, which basically left us with four hours spare in the afternoon"


Williams' and Mr Australia's partner came out to the beach. “We said to them that there was no more competition element left to do so suggested they come and spend some time with us. The contestants' information on the website had said that partners of contestants were welcome, but when they turned up they were made to feel pretty unwelcome by the organiser. Tore basically said: 'You shouldn't be sitting there with your partners, you should be speaking with the other contestants.'"

"I understand the idea that we should be interacting with them but in fact we were interacting with them... and Mr Gay France only spoke French and my partner was the only person he was able to speak with most of the time, so them speaking French together was giving him a nice relief from just sitting there smiling blankly at conversations he didn't understand.”

“Other guys were sleeping on chairs and, like, baking in the sun,” Williams recalls, “so it wasn't like there was a lot of mingling or interacting going on anyway. So to say that we weren't was a bit stupid. But our partners went away. After about an hour with nothing really happening we said we were going to walk down to where they were and asked if it was fine if we brought them back."

The organisers relented and said yes. “I think they realised it was kind of ridiculous, that otherwise we'd just head off and hang out down that way.”

“So we brought them back and were all there for a couple more hours and had a few drinks and eventually it was time to leave and that was when I had a personal issue with my partner.”

“I think he was a little bit frustrated and thinking that I was feeding him lies because one minute I was saying: 'Yes you can come.' Then I was having to tell him: 'You have to leave.' I think his view of it was that I didn't want him to be there... that I wanted to hang out with all these people, so there was a little bit of jealousy.”

“I mean, it says on the website that [companions] are more than welcome to come to things that aren't competition elements but then when they came it was like: 'No, actually you have to leave, you can't be here'”.

“There were parts where they couldn't come when we were rehearsing or competing and that makes sense. But then there were other, more social, occasions which the website says they can come to but when they got there they were being told they can't stand there because someone's taking a photo and that kind of thing. And there were the looks they were getting as well, like: 'Why are they here... who are these people?'”

Although there were several people involved in running the events Williams says the main problem came from Tore Aasheim. “It was mostly him that had an issue... like, he's the Mr Gay Europe organiser. As I understand it there are people who are in charge of each region and when the event is hosted in their region they take charge. But also there were people from Rome involved and from what I now understand it was kind of 'unique' this year. Like last year's event was organised with almost military precision with a nice hotel and everything went smoothly.”


When contacted the International Mr Gay World organisers days after the event to ask why we had not seen Williams in the live streamed final, we were told he had been dismissed from the contest due to “alcohol abuse,” conjuring up visions of him being drunk, perhaps out of control, even abusive... that something really unpleasant and irresponsible had gone down.

For Williams, “it was one of the more disappointing things that they made that allegation. 'Alcohol abuse' is such a loaded term, implying that I was beyond the point of control or fall down drunk drinking. We'd had just three drinks that day. I mean, I bought a round, Mr Gay Australia bought a round, Chris Olwage bought a round, and that was over three or four hours. I mean, we were in the sun but I definitely wasn't drunk." He laughs: "I'm a lightweight drinker but not that lightweight.”

“So we were having personal issues and if we hadn't been drinking maybe that wouldn't have happened, I don't know. But basically my partner decided he wasn't getting on the bus to go back. He had built up a head of steam and I just needed to calm him down but they told me: 'No,' I had to leave him there. And that wasn't something I was comfortable doing. Like, it was his first time overseas, we are miles away from the city, in a foreign-speaking country and I couldn't just say: 'Here's 10 euros, find your way home and let me know when you get there.'”

“I mean, they were just heading back to the night's dinner so it wasn't like it was anything super-important, but I was basically told that I had to leave him there as long as I was in the competition. To effectively decide 'are you staying in the competition or are you going to look after your partner?' I told them 'If you're making me choose between the competition and him then I'm choosing him... it's not even really a question, and if you want me to withdraw, to provide an official resignation then I'm happy to do that.'”

“At that point Tore or one of the organisers made the statement that 'Well, if you're going to drop out there's a financial penalty of $5,000.” I kind of put my obstinate lawyer's hat on, asking how they were going to enforce that and on what contractual basis did they have the right and so on. I could probably have been more relaxed in my tone but when people make those sort of claims or accusations... I don't know whether it's a sort of moral compass or previously being a lawyer, but I don't like that and I guess I do get argumentative in those situations.”

Williams says he told the organisers they didn't have to wait, “that I would stay and take care of the situation and be in touch in the morning. Finally I think they realised that he wasn't getting on the bus and I wasn't getting on it without him and they left, saying they'd talk about it tomorrow.”

The pair headed back together to the partner's hotel. “I mean, navigating the Italian public transport system which involved two buses and a train would have been extremely difficult in an inebriated state. Especially when you don't have the language and can't ask anyone so you have to try to read the signs to figure out where the bus is going, which stop to get off at, where is the next bus, which train stop to go to...”


Williams' recounting of the problem at the beach is somewhat different to the allegations leveled at him by the Mr Gay World people. But they have also claimed to Daily News that once the bus left the beach that late afternoon they never had any contact with him again. That he did not turn up to a morning meeting to discuss the situation and that he had basically absconded. Williams says that was not the case.

“That night I spoke to them [from the hotel] and it was all fine, I sorted it out. In the morning I sent them an email because the programme just said '10am rehearsals at the gym' but wasn't specific about which gym so I said where am I meeting you... again, no response.”

“In the afternoon there was a pool party scheduled back at the camp site so I went back there and spoke with Tore and the Italian organisers about what had happened the day before and sort of apologised for my partner's behaviour and for being argumentative but said I was disappointed and upset at what they'd said about having to leave him there and suing me for $5,000, none of which I felt were appropriate."

"We discussed whether I was continuing with the competition and they expressed the desire that I didn't leave, that I stay in the competition. I had missed the artistic rehearsals in the morning so I wouldn't be able to do the artistic challenge, which was a singing, dancing type thing... which wasn't something I had really wanted to do but it's Mr Gay World so you have to expect some elements of fabulousness in it,” he laughs.

Adding to the mounting reservations about the running of the contest was the lack of the uplifting gay and human rights content signaled in the Mr Gay World website statement of history and intent for the contest. “There was none of that. For instance, Mr Gay India was a big celebrity in his country, doing Big Brother in India and trying to set up various charities for intersex people who no one wants to be associated with in any shape or form... but there was no platform for that or for serious discussion.”


Williams says he went to the pool party, described to by Mr Gay Australia as an event where the organisers encouraged the contestants to get intimate and grope each other. “I spoke to the other contestants - sorry, delegates - and they were all asking what had happened and was everything ok. A couple of them mentioned that at the previous night's dinner when they had asked where I was and what had happened they had been told: 'We left him there, he was far too drunk.'”

To hear that the organisers were saying things that weren't true was, for Williams, “kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. I went back to my partner's hotel and spoke with him, rang my family and spoke with other people here, like Andy, a past Mr Gay NZ and Mr Gay World winner, then withdrew. Even if I had become Mr Gay World I wouldn't have wanted the title if that was the kind of organisation they were running.”

Was pulling out the right decision? “Maybe I should have just continued on and tried to change the thing from within...”

Does he really think he could have changed that competition? “No.”

So he “sent Tore a message that I thought it was best for everyone that I withdraw. The other thing was that I didn't want to continue for another day and find it was even worse and then pull out and cause them even more difficulty closer to the actual show day.”

It was days later, when was reporting the organisers' accusations against him, that Williams heard that, in the Mr Gay World organisers' own words, he had been kicked out for “alcohol abuse” and “transgressing” the rules of the competition.

“It was definitely disappointing but from what I had experienced, somewhat not surprising. It sort of tied in with the whole lack of professionalism they seemed to have... not to even just say 'left for personal reasons' or something... but to make a false allegation, well...”

Williams understands some of the other contestants wanted to leave but weren't able to. “For us, I could leave because I had my partner's hotel to go to and we could finance our own travel changes. Whereas the others didn't have the same sort of resources because they were younger or didn't have the money saved up, so they were basically stuck.”


Looking ahead, Williams hopes the organisers buck their ideas up and get back to their stated objectives for the Mr Gay World event.

“They do need to do a debrief on why it was that badly organised. There was a communication that went around just after the contest saying that this year's contest had been a 'difficult' one, I don't know if that's because two of the competitors withdrew or because they realised it was poorly organised this year.”

At the very least he hopes that next year will be different, “that there won't be the same sort of issues that we experienced. It would be nice if they included a bit more of the leadership development aspect, especially when you have delegates from all around the world, some of whom are doing amazing things.”

"Despite my own experience I would still recommend anyone to enter the Mr Gay New Zealand contest. I mean, the Mr Gay World contest is just one element of it, and for some people international travel is attractive, but I think being Mr Gay NZ is more important here... and with the next Mr Gay World being held back in South Africa where they have hosted it before and it was really well done then there is a good chance it will be a good experience, more professional and with more respect for the contestants, many of whom are leaders from their countries."

   Bookmark and Share staff - 23rd September 2014