Jethro Gardiner of Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Horohoro te iwi, is one of the new contestants entering Mr Gay New Zealand (MGNZ) 2020.
He says entering, “Isn't about wanting to have this title. This is about needing to be this title.”
He says being Mr Gay New Zealand would help to elevate the personal values and morals that exist within him, for the safety and empowerment of others.
“Because of the life I have, I represent many communities. Firstly. I am Māori - tangata whenua. Without getting into it, the first trait that this title should be represented by is that of an indigenous person.”
Gardiner was born and raised in Australia but moved to Aotearoa in the hope of finding himself.
“My whakapapa and my identity. So I also represent those on that are on a path of self-discovery! A path that I advocate heavily for."
The third community he speaks for is the gay community, “That aren’t brave enough, safe enough or loved enough. The ones that sit in the straight world hoping no one notices them.
“This was me. With a lifetime of experience, conversations and anecdotes (being 33 years old) I realised that I have something of value. I know this because I stand proudly in my sexuality - in the straight world.”
He hopes to be a representation of a gay man in a straight world and that it’s possible to be in both.
“That the straight world can love you, can celebrate you and furthermore can help to elevate you just as equally. This is where I stand. I applaud those who have fought the fight for many of us to be proud in who we are,” he says.
“My request is to be given the opportunity knowing that I can shine a light on the beautiful people that feel excluded in the straight world but too scared to venture into their true self.”
Tia Walters. Source: File
Tia Walters is another Māori contestant this year. He says he has a passion to be a voice for those that need one.
"To stand for something that matters for all and not just the Rainbow Community, by venturing outside of our community we can create the bridge to truly be understood, and accepted."
If he wins the competition, he says, "I will show during my reign that to live life with self-confidence, always respecting others, where honesty and integrity are at the core of everything we do, are what makes us as humans great regardless of Colour, Cree, Race or sexual preferences."
Mr Gay NZ wore Tino Rangatiratanga flag on international stage
The reigning MGNZ 2019 Nick Francis, who is Samoan, represented the Māori culture when he represented Aotearoa at Mr Gay World in South Africa last year.
He was gifted kākahu by popular Waka Huia performer Kani Collier to wear for his national costume at the competition.
“I understand, with the Māori culture is it's something you carry with you with respect and so much high honour.”
As part of his costume, Francis will wear a taonga, maro, feathers and the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.
After Francis was born in New Zealand, he moved with his family to Samoa. At the age of six, he returned to Aotearoa.
“Being a New Zealand born Samoan and the privilege of being raised through schooling, being educated on our history about Māori culture, it’s definitely something I want[ed] to share with the world.”
Francis is an ambassador for the NZ Aids Foundation and recently started his own campaign, advocating for people within the transsexual community.
“They’re so underrepresented and there's a lot of injustices in the justice system and how they're treated amongst our community, he says.
The competition this year
This year’s finalists come from a range of backgrounds all with strong views and beliefs about aspects of the community they love and things they would like to help improve. Other contestants include Raymond Wedlake from Christchurch, Shaneel Shavneel Lal from Otahuhu and Liam Reid from Wellington.
MGNZ co-producer Matt Fistonich said the competition will now move into the challenge stage, all designed to build, and develop future leaders within the LGBTI community in New Zealand.
“MGNZ has a track record of finding diverse New Zealanders from a wide range of backgrounds who are passionate about their community,” Fistonich says.
“While the competition this year is between these five finalists, there will also be a reflection on how we have created such momentum with MGNZ over the last six years and turned this around from being a beauty contest to finding people that show leadership, relatability, communication, and have the ability to engage with the wider LGBTI community.”
The 12th annual MGNZ final will be held over the weekend coinciding with the Ending HIV Big Gay Out on February 9 at Coyle Park, Auckland.