Our new Mr Gay Europe Alexander Petrov (31) did not come out to his family back home in Bulgaria nor did he tell them he was taking part in the competition!
Fresh back home from a week of challenges, networking and not to forget the exciting Cologne Pride, Alexander Petrov (31) is back home in Sofia, Bulgaria, trying to cope with the fact that he is the new Mr Gay Europe.
In this interview you get to know our new titleholder a little bit better.
– How do you feel right now Alexander?
– Excited, stressed, tired, happy, relieved, scared of the unknown. In short, a hot mess of emotions.
– How has the response back home been so far?
– Overwhelming and mostly positive. I couldn’t even wait for me to get home, as one of the flight attendants, in the plane on my way back to Sofia, recognized me, congratulated me and gave me a free coffee. I’m still getting accustomed to all this publicity and visibility I’m receiving, as I’m usually a more closed person when it comes to that.
– Did you get any feedback from your family?
My family did not know I was participating in the competition. And, although I kind of came out to my mother many years ago, my father never got the memo. With all the inevitable publicity I was going to get, I knew it was time to have “The Talk” where I properly come out to them and tell them about my experience in Cologne.
– Wow, how on earth did that go?
– It went surprisingly well, as they told me they had started to suspect it over the years. My father came up with the theory that all of humanity is slowly evolving towards a more androgynous form where people have a male and a female spirit at the same time, so he took it as an ordained and God-sent moment.
My mother just wanted to know if am well and happy and started to caution me from getting too star-struck or dizzy with fame to the point where I start making bad decisions that would compromise me as a good human. They were very happy for me winning “Mr Gay Europe” and felt it was an accomplishment.
When we finally parted, on my way home, I thought about how unexpectedly good it all went down. I had all these doomsday scenarios in my head before the talk, and none of them came true. Honestly, very deep inside, a really small part of me was probably disappointed and though about asking for a refund.
– Apart from winning the competition, what was the best that happened during this year’s Mr Gay Europe from your personal point of view?
– On a personal growth level I learned that I should stop constantly doubting my worth and skill, and believe that whatever I am doing, might not be the best, but most definitely is good enough. Also, although seeming extroverted to the naked eye, I still battle social anxiety and the experience during the competition helped me knock down a few walls.
On a more surface level I got to meet so many awesome, dedicated, knowledgeable, fun, talented, kind and driven people, that inspired me to strive to evolve and better myself. I had a blast with the other fellow delegates, and especially with my roomies – Mr Gay Portugal and Mr Gay Germany with whom we were up to silliness most of the time.
And the very street festival and Cologne pride itself. Walking down the pride route the positive energy was infectious, it was a Love and Joy pandemic. Never have I ever felt so accepted and unjudged by the people around me.
– What would you say to those who claims Mr Gay Europe is just like another beauty pageant?
It is so not a beauty pageant. Besides the obvious lack of a swimwear walk and a talent show, all the remaining challenges are focused on measuring the delegates’ knowledge, creativeness, perseverance, discipline, willpower, persuasiveness, decorum, congeniality and desire to forward and better LGBT rights across the European continent. If the world’s beauty pageants were a little like MGE, our planet would be a way better place to live in.
– Why did you want to take part in this competition?
– At first, after I gathered the courage to do it, it was to challenge myself, to force myself out of my comfort zone into an evolution. Later on, when I actually got on the competition and saw the possibility of actually winning it, I saw the opportunity to do a greater good by helping my fellow LGBT countrymen and the LGBT society in Europe as a whole.
– What would you like to do with the year to come as the titleholder; anything special you want to achieve?
Firstly, in my home country, I want to enter the public eye so I can serve as a role model and a positive representation of a gay man for both the LGBT and the non-LGBT society on a national level, as we have a severe shortage of that there.
Secondly, I would like to do meaningful work on my project by exploring, researching and shedding light on the subject of homeless LGBT youth in Bulgaria, the Balkan region and Europe as a whole. Hopefully this will result in the creation of the first Safe house for homeless and mentally and physically abused LGBT youth in the Balkan region.
Thirdly, I would like to alleviate the deteriorating mental health situation among LGBT people in Europe by exploring its causes and destigmatizing the subject.
What was the most important thing you learnt or experienced during Mr Gay Europe 2019?
– In the competition I did a lot of public speaking and interviews compared to my previous experiences, which boosted my self-confidence and helped me grow out of my comfort zone. This was a thing I really needed in my personal life and was a thing that I would direly need If I won the competition.
– The other delegates from the other countries were competing with you, but did you get along as well?
– When I first decided to join the competition and through most of it, I decided to not adopt an “Eyes on the prize” attitude, but focus on this once-in-a-lifetime experience and use it to connect with these awesome and accomplished people from all around Europe, that would be my fellow delegates in the competition.
I believe I tried and succeeded in that endeavour and had a very nice, respectful and friendly connection with all of them. I particularly connected with my two roomies, as we kind of had a similar “Mediterranean” attitude.
– Did you learn anything from any of the other delegates?
– I did learn a lot. We had a workshop on LGBT rights around the world. In it we all talked about the current situation in our respective countries and what problems are we facing right now. One thing that really shocked me was the difficulties and restrictions LGBT people encounter while trying to donate blood in Germany, as for some reason in Bulgaria that is a complete non-issue. Another thing that was brought to my attention is that a shocking amount of EU countries require a forced sterilization before gender reassignment surgery for trans people.
– Who else other than the delegates did you get to know?
– I got to know some of the judges and the organizers through the workshops they carried out for us or through personal conversations. If I had to mention a few of them, I was completely amazed by the inexhaustible knowledge font of LGBT history and rights, that was Coenie Kukkuk, (MGE judge and overseeing lawyer), the blazing passionate Robbie Lawlor (MGE judge and previous MGE delegate) had in his heart for HIV awareness and prevention, and the unfaltering professionalism and dedication of Tore Aasheim (MGE president).
– You won four out of eight challenges; one of them being “My Project” which you presented for the jury as the project you would like to work with in the year to come if you won. In short, tell us more about this project.
– The project was about creating a safe place for LGBT youth that have been forced into homeless ness by their parents due to their sexuality, and LGBT youth that is forced to continue living at home while enduring everyday mental and physical abuse for the same reason. Also, the project had the idea of exploring the topic of LGBT homelessness on a local and pan-European level, as the subject is severely under-researched and acknowledged.
– Why did you pick this project?
I picked this project mainly due to my personal experiences, over the years, with LGBT youth that are facing homelessness or suffer from everyday abuse at their homes. Getting kicked out on the street or being abused by your parents for being only who you are is an unimaginable trauma that corrodes your sense of worth, your ability to trust people, to feel safe and accepted.
All of this, and the constant battle for survival deprives those young LGBT people of the opportunities they need to develop and grow into their full potential as functional, successful, happy and healthy individuals. As I have been lucky with my family in this life, and the unconditional love my mother has given me, meeting those teenagers and hearing about their grim fates, breaks my heart and forces me to try and do something to correct their parents’ wrongs.
– In many places around Europe there is talk about human rights – but at the same time it seems that the gay rights are suffering, any thoughts on that?
– Unfortunately, a lot of heterosexual people still view gay people as “them” and “us”. Maybe even consider us as an unnecessarily vocal minority that is hungry for attention. This results is gay rights lagging behind the overall human rights in those places. Until the moment comes, when people stop considering sexuality as a divisive characteristic, we as LGBT people will need to fight to earn what non-LGBT people already have.
– Why do you think some people have problems with other people being gay? And why do you think some families throw their children out of their homes when they find out they are gay?
– When we take the obvious reasons, such as anti-gay rhetoric and religion, out of the equation, I think the main things that create issues for the non-LGBT people in relation to being gay, is the fear of the different, the fear of the unknown and fear of change. These fears are deeply rooted in humanity’s psyche and trigger as defence mechanisms, rejecting the perceived threat. When it comes to families, parents sometimes value more religion, societal norm, social appearances and personal expectations and projections, than the happiness and wellbeing of their own children. This, in my opinion is completely misguided, egotistic and marks the failure of a parent as one.
– What would you say to a young boy or girl that is reading this and are afraid to tell their parents that they are gay?
You already know your parents and probably know what type of reaction you could expect from them. You should wait for a time to come out in front of them, when you really feel the need to do so, and you are in a very stable mental state, prepared for all of the possible outcomes. I’d advise, if you are still young and unemployed, and your parents mainly provide for you, to find some financial security for yourself, in case the worst scenario comes the pass. You need to have a shelter and be able to continue your education. As I’d like to say – better safe than sorry. Of course, these grim scenarios are far from guaranteed, many parents are becoming more and more okay with the possibility of a child of theirs being gay. I had such luck, although I waited for the perfect moment, and had given my parents plenty of time to start suspecting it, as the idea of it slowly sank into their minds.
No matter the case, if it goes good, bad or worse, in time it WILL get better. You just need to stay strong and resilient until the storm passes, and the sunlight hits your beautiful faces again.