Mr. Gay Canada 2013: Danny Papadatos transforms troubles into triumphs
While life may have dealt Danny Papadatos a rough hand, the harsh life lessons being taught were not lost upon a man who transformed potential tragedies into triumph. In fact, the newly crowned Mr. Gay Canada now credits a life-threatening disease with his salvation.
Papadatos, who hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, won the national competition, which ran from February 5 to 8 during WinterPRIDE at Whistler. (Victoria's Rylie Moore was named runner-up.) Mr. Gay Canada coexecutive producer Ken Coolen stated in a news release that Papadatos was chosen for his "maturity and leadership" and "his ability to represent Canada's LGBT community to the world".
The 28-year-old Boston Pizza provincial training manager has come a long, long way from growing up closeted in smalltown Canada. But he's also going a long way—Papadatos will continue on to represent Canada in the Mr. Gay World competition in Antwerp, Belgium, to be held from August 1 to 5 during the World Outgames.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Papadatos' story begins with how he was raised with traditional Greek values. While he appreciates the strong sense of character, strength, and family that his upbringing infused with him, he struggled to reconcile those elements with who he truly was.
"I didn't necessarily follow all they had wanted in [their] hopes for me, for family, and whatnot," he says on the line from Saskatoon. "And it wasn't easy. I had to hide a lot of who I was for a really long time. And then when I finally came out, I did have to go on welfare and leave the house and all that fun stuff that entails, and it helped me grow as a person."
But being kicked out of his home was not the only curveball life would throw him; he was diagnosed with cancer—not once, but twice.
"Cancer really saved my life," he says. "I was in a really bad place in my life. I was young, I was going through the stages of coming out… which involves alcohol, and partying, and dancing all night, and calling in sick to work…and I was in a really bad relationship…and it was really destructive to me as a person. And it took cancer for me to slow down and take a look at my life and realize what I wanted from my life and what I wanted to be and what I wanted for my future. And so I started to get to know myself, and I started to take the opportunity to give back to my community."
The gravity of the situation also forced his family to transcend any prejudices and zero in on what really matters in life.
"My family realized that what was more important was to have me there, regardless of who I loved, rather than the alternative, which was me not be around at all."
With his family's support, he pulled through it all, learning and growing from those experiences. And he hasn't stopped. Although he didn't know much about Mr. Gay Canada until he entered the competition, the experience also taught him about his own strengths and weaknesses, but also about what queer communities have to offer, such as organizations like Rainbow Refuge Canada.
"We got to actually talk to two refugees who had gone through the program and hear their stories, and that alone to me was probably the most eye-opening experience of it all. It really opened up my heart, my soul, my mind."
As Mr. Gay Canada, he says calls himself an advocate of love, and wants to focus on getting back to the basics in the fight for gay rights.
"I think that we, as a community, get lost in the glitz and glamour of it all and [we need to] figure out why are we are fighting for what we fight for. Why is marriage so important to us? Why is it that people don't want to get in our corner, so to speak? And for me, it's like, I just want to be able to love whoever I want to love…."
A recurrent theme in his approach to tackling such issues is collaboration. Although he may have won the title, it's clear that he wants to share the stage. He and the seven other delegates are planning to use each other as a network to "try and make this thing bigger."
Knowing how life can change in the blink of an eye, Papadatos also hopes to encourage more random acts of kindness from others.
"Let's all take the opportunity to gay it forward," he says. "Take the one person you might know who needs that extra hand because you never know if they can help an extra five."
That may also be his Saskatoon side speaking. He points out that although Saskatoon lacks the resources that larger centres like Vancouver or Toronto have, "there's a heart in our community here in the prairies." And he'd like to see a return to some of those core Canadian values of acceptance and integrity.
"We've lost that love. We've lost that arms-open community. And I challenge everybody just to open up their arms again and open up their hearts and open up their minds to the world that's around them and this great nation that we have and what we've got going on for us."
Papadatos hopes to take that love to the Mr. Gay World competition, which he's preparing for by reading up on current global issues and working out at the gym.
"I'm ready to bring the heart of Canada to Belgium," he says. "And I hope that people are excited for that because I'm ready to bring it home."