Thursday 10 May 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 15) An Island of Beauty

Previously : 28) Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) and 29) FannyAnn Eddy (1974-2004) are jointly commemorated in the human rights organisation the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation, co-founded by 30) Joey Joleen Mataele, who also founded the Miss Galaxy pageant modelled on the western beauty contest, in which the earliest known lgbt contestant was 31) Julia Lemigova (b.1972).

31) Julia Lemigova was not out as lgbt when she competed in the Miss USSR 1990 pageant. The Soviet government had banned beauty pageants in 1959. It was during the Perestroika era under more democratic leadership that these contests were revived.

The first national Soviet female beauty pageant, called Miss Moscow Beauty, was held in 1988. The following year it was renamed Miss USSR. Julia Lemigova entered the pageant in 1990 and came second. However, the winner was “dethroned” when she got married, making Julia the new Miss USSR 1990. She thus became eligible to enter the Miss Universe 1991 pageant in Las Vegas. On that occasion she came third.

Her move to France after the Miss Universe pageant developed into something that was other than glamorous. In 1997 she met banker Edouard Stern and began a relationship which resulted in the birth of a son, Maximilien. Maximilien was in the care of his father when he suffered a fatal brain injury. He was only 6 months old. There may never be a satisfactory explanation, but conspiracy theories abound, involving Stern’s bank, suppressed autopsy results and a disappearing nanny.

After her son’s death Julia Lemigova became a successful international businesswoman with several cosmetics companies to her name. In 2009 she became the girlfriend of tennis legend Martina Navratilova. They became engaged in a very public manner at the US Open tennis tournament in 2014 and were married later that year.

As far as can be determined Julia Lemigova was the first former national beauty pageant winner to reveal a same-sex relationship. There have been several others since then, the most recent being last month - Diedre Downs Gunn, Miss USA 2005.

There have been a handful of openly lgbt reigning national pageant queens. The first was 32) Patricia Yurena Rodriguez (b.1990). It was as the reigning Miss Spain 2013 that she came out as lesbian. Her titles cover a range of several years. They are:

Miss Tenerife 2007,
Miss Spain 2008 (and entry into Miss World 2008)
Miss Tenerife 2013, and
Miss Universe Spain 2013 (and entry into Miss Universe 2013).

Patricia was unable to enter Miss Universe 2008 because was under the 18-year-old age limit (Spain was represented by her runner-up). Later in the year, after she passed her 18th birthday, Patricia represented Spain in the Miss World pageant.

Patricia’s young age went in her favour five years later when, usually for female pageant contestants after so many years, she was again voted Miss Tenerife 2013. By this time the Miss Spain pageant had been divided into two, one pageant for Miss World and the other for Miss Universe. Patricia Yurena Rodriguez won the Miss Universe Spain pageant with entry into Miss Universe 2013 to be held in Moscow.

Sadly, we have to bring some ugliness into all this beauty by introducing two politicians who, unfortunately, are still around – Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Putin was responsible for the laws against homosexuality which not only saw protests at Miss Universe but also at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics held two months later.

The only reason Miss Universe was being held in Moscow was because Donald Trump, who owned the Miss Universe organisation at the time, had commercial links in Russia. It’s too complicated to go into, but it’s a fact that the venue of Miss Universe 2013, half of the judges, and several contestants who were selected by businessmen and not by the public, had business links to Trump.

The compere of the previous two Miss Universe pageants was American openly gay broadcaster Andy Cohen. He had also compered several Miss USA pageants, but he refused to host Miss Universe 2013 because of the anti-gay laws. Trump found a replacement, another openly gay American broadcaster, Thomas Roberts. Recently, Roberts made a public apology and regretted agreeing to act as pageant host in view of more recent Trump-Putin-Russia revelations.

That’s enough political ugliness. Let’s return to beauty. Patricia Yurena Rodriguez, Miss Universe Spain, was voted the first runner-up (i.e. second) in Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow. Less than a year later she came out on Instagram becoming the first reigning national pageant queen to do so.

Spain is unique in that it is the only nation who has had both a male and female lgbt national pageant winner. What’s more remarkable is that they both held the same regional title.

33) Daniel Rodriguez (b.1993) (no relation to Patricia as far as I know) won the Mr Tenerife title in 2016. In June 2016 he won the Mr International Spain pageant (again, there’s two Spain pageants; Mr International is the male equivalent of Miss Universe). Just days later, still in the media circus that follows the pageant finals, he came out as gay. This was deliberate. He had wanted to show that a gay man can enter and win any national pageant title. However, his reign was short. Daniel wasn’t happy with the way the Mr International Spain organisers were using him in their promotions and he resigned in October 2016.

It’s not only national pageants that Tenerife and the Canary Islands can boast to have the first lgbt representatives. The islands can also boast five political firsts in Spain, all of them achieved by just two people, the first person holding four of them. His name is 34) Jerónimo Saavedra (b.1936).

Next time : From an Atlantic island to a national capital and international activism.

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