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OSLO (Reuters Life!) - Nearly two dozen men from five continents sashayed down the stage of an Oslo club on Saturday night competing to be crowned Worldwide Mr Gay, the winner of an international pageant for gay men.
The crowd hooted and cheered as contestants, wearing hotpants, feathered headdresses or cowboy outfits, did their best to woo the eight-judge panel.
The aim of the event was to find a global role model for young men coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
"We want them to think 'hey, it's OK to be gay,' said judge Eric Butter, the president of Worldwide Mr Gay.
"We hope we can make it easier for these young kids, and their parents, to understand what they are going through," he told Reuters.
Contestants worked hard to prepare for the pageant.
"I have been to the gym two hours every day, Monday to Saturday, working with the weights and building up the abs," said Mr. Gay Mexico, 34-year-old Jair Vega.
Despite legal changes in many countries allowing same-sex couples the right to marry or adoption, many homosexuals around the world face discrimination, harassment or imprisonment.
"The biggest problem is lack of knowledge," said Tore Aasheim, Worldwide Mr. Gay's executive producer. "Many people still don't know what it means to be gay."
The event, originally called Mr. Gay World, has faced many problems.
Organizers received complaints from the leaders of the Miss World pageant over the use of the "World" label. The event was renamed Worldwide Mr. Gay, but Organizers say they will revert to calling it Mr. Gay World.
Six contestants, from countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, chose not to travel to Norway for fear of harassment at home.
Mr. Gay China was chosen in a secret competition after authorities raided the venue where the selection was to have taken place in January. Authorities said the event did not have the proper license.
Mr. Gay China said he could face trouble with Chinese authorities when he returned home, but nevertheless traveled to Norway to be an example to others.
"I think that by participating in this competition I will encourage hundreds of thousands of Chinese gays to stand up and
come out of the closet," said Xiaodai Muyi, 26.
Editing by Paul Casciato