WHISTLER—Christepher Wee is the first Asian Canadian to win the title of Mr. Gay Canada. But he says he hadn't given much thought about his racial identity.
"Live your life as best you can as a humanitarian and your labels fall secondary," he says of his personal philosophy. "For me, I don't go through life helping someone…because I'm Chinese or I'm an LGBT member. I'm doing it because I'm a human being and that's what we should be doing."
On the other hand, Wee, in an interview with the Georgia Straight at the Whistler Conference Centre, says that what partly inspired him to enter the contest was Miss New York Nina Davuluri, who won Miss America 2013, and Miss California Crystal Lee, who was first runnerup.
After seeing an Indian American and Chinese American top the Miss America pageant, he began to wonder what was available for gay men. He had grealtly admired the initiative of a friend who quit his job to do charity work in Cambodia, and he in turn wondered what could be done on a national or international level. After stumbling upon Mr. Gay Canada in a Google search, he decided to give it a go.
Regional competitions were held in Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver. After a three-day competition during Whistler's WinterPRIDE LGBT ski week that included sports, fashion, and public speaking challenges, Wee won the title on January 30—which was Chinese New Year's Eve, no less. (He inherits the position from 2013 winner Danny Papadatos.)
Wee, who was born in Singapore to ethnic Chinese parents from Singapore and Malaysia but grew up in Vancouver, was surprised to receive hundreds of Facebook messages thanking him, particularly from Asia.
"I had messages like 'I'm so proud of you. You represent us Asians,'" he says. "I didn't even think I was Asian when I was applying and it really hit me when I got all these messages saying you represent us and you are our voice because part of my message was I would like to use my voice and be heard."
The Coquitlam resident won the peoples' choice award, the best costume award (for dressing up as a Justice of Supreme Court of Canada with a rainbow strip to represent Canada's stance for human rights), and the Mr. Congeniality award.
Although LGBT rights in Asia have a long ways to go (even in his birthplace of Singapore, homosexuality is still illegal), he says his family was always accepting of his sexual orientation.
"I would talk to them openly about things as though it's like daily life," he says. "It's not like a big deal."
His experiences of being in the public eye in Asia, after becoming a model and actor, gave him training to be a role model. He says he felt it prepared him for the competition and helped him become a better teacher.
Teaching and education issues remain a priority for him. In his capacity as Mr. Gay Canada, he wants to work with organizations like Out in Schools, Pride Education Network, and gay-straight alliances.
"My goal is to get Out in Schools and all those programs more into our school system, especially outside of the city," he says.
By doing so, he believes all students will benefit by improving their social skills.
"Every person needs to learn how to live in society. The young, they learn how to be more understanding and whatnot, it will help them in their workplace. It will help them when they go to postsecondary, or if they move out of the country. When we move out of the country and live in different places, you have to adapt to different cultures…so I think it's a good thing for kids to learn at a young age."
He prefers not to use the word "inclusion" because he feels it emphasizes who isn't included.
"For me, it's more like a celebration of the diversity in the school, whether it's gender or religion or your race or your sexual orientation [and it's important] to learn from each other about the differences and celebrate those differences."
Wee hopes to meet with city councillor Tim Stevenson, who is currently on a mission to the Sochi Winter Olympics to advocate for LGBT rights, and he will also go on to compete in the Mr. Gay World competition in August in Rome, Italy.
While he feels that Canada has significantly progressed thanks to previous generations of LGBT pioneers and activists who fought for rights and acceptance, he cites Russia as an example of how things can change for the worse.
"We can't just focus on Canada," he says. "We also have to look globally at how we can influence [others] as well."