Stephen Lehane, aka Mr Gay Ireland 2017, on STI testing, his LGBT heroes, HIV awareness and global outreach. Photos by Stephen Hannon.
Stephen Lehane entered the Mr Gay Ireland (MGI) 2017 competition as Mr Gay PRHOMO, and won the national competition on March 4, thanks to his strong sewing skills, his hard work raising funds for and awareness of HIV in the LGBT community and his charming personality!
We caught up with the 24-year-old Dubliner after the competition so he was still on a natural high and he seemed absolutely thrilled to have won and to have the chance to represent Ireland in the Mr Gay Europe competition in August.
Hey Stephen, how are you?
Let’s kick this off with some easy questions!
Some small easy questions would be great, my brain is still a bit fried after the competition!
What’s your favourite TV show right now?
Oh, my favourite TV show… I love any sitcom that has an all female cast, so like, the Golden Girls, Facts of Life, but my favourite one at the moment is one from the late 80s, the early 90s called Designing Women.
It’s about four women who run an interior design firm in Georgia, so like the deep south. I’ve been watching it an awful lot lately. There’s some really famous rants in it that you might have seen Panti do. There’s one about the night the lights went out in Georgia which is pretty iconic.
They also have an amazing episode about people dying of HIV. There’s a pretty brilliant rant in that as well.
I think one of the best lines in it is something like: “If God was handing out venereal diseases for ill-doing, then you’d be at the free clinic every week, as would I, as would all of us in this room.”
So that’s my favourite show at the moment.
What’s your favourite film?
Keeping on the theme of a pageant I think it would have to be Drop Dead Gorgeous!
It’s an incredible movie.
Oh, good choice! What’s your favourite LGBT film?
For some reason the only one that’s coming to mind is Kissing Jessica Stein, and that movie is terrible, so that’s definitely not my answer! Em…
Milk is pretty good. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to share the story of a real life LGBT icon than people who make huge political difference because I think a lot of the LGBT people we hear about now are people who are just celebrities, like actors and things.
But it’s nice to see people who are huge political giants.
In Ireland, in terms of LGBT activism, do you have anyone you look up to?
Senator David Norris – I think he get’s overlooked. I mean the amount that he’s actually done for LGBT people in Ireland is colossal!
He could never be forgotten in terms of history in the things he’s achieved and I think maybe our generation forgets that a little bit. I mean, talk about people who paved the way.
Moving on to the competition, how did you prepare for MGI?
Well I definitely had my eyes on the prize. I was pulling out all the tricks that I had in the bag, I was pulling in all the favours that I can get.
Whenever I’m preparing for an event, my first thing I always think of is what am I going to wear. And I make clothes, so my first response is to make an outfit.
So I made a full sequinned tracksuit for the club wear round. I think everyone else was like, jeans and T-shirt, and I was like: No, full sequinned tracksuit.
My inspiration was a gay Power Ranger, that’s what I was going for.
Getting the outfits together was kind of the fun bit, but then there’s the more activism and fundraising side.
So I produced a video that kind of laid down really basic information about the history of HIV in the LGBT community and also some basic facts about it as it is now. Because I think that the younger generation, like my generation, doesn’t seem to realise HIV is something that’s relevant to them and don’t know the basic facts.
So that was something that I really wanted to get out there, and that got over 4000 views. So that was pretty great!
What was it like to win?
It was pretty amazing! I think since watching Miss Congeniality as a child, I’ve always wanted to win a sash, so that dream finally came through.
You’re living your Drop Dead Gorgeous fantasy.
Yeah I know, and no one even had to die in a giant swan!
But yeah, it was really incredible to win it’s a huge honour and it was amazing to see the amount of support that I’ve gotten from my family, from friends, from all corners of the world reaching out to me to congratulate me, but it’s only just beginning.
How are you going to prepare for Mr Gay Europe in August?
I think that when you look at how some of the other countries do the competition it’s really large scale, so I think I’m definitely going to have to up my game. But I’ve got a bit more time to prepare for this one which is fantastic.
It’s really exciting to get to connect to LGBT communities outside of Ireland because one of the things I love about being a part of the LGBT community is that it breaks down all barriers.
It spans all races, all languages, all genders, all religions, all ages. So it’s really exciting to be able to get to connect to people who maybe have a different story to you, but you have something in common with.
In the lead up to MGI your focus was on HIV activism. Are you going to be continuing that work for MGEu or are you going to be branching out into a different area of activism?
So I have two things that are at the forefront of my mind.
One would be to try, it’s around the area of HIV, but around the area of STI testing in general, because I think for a lot of people their attitude toward getting tested is: “Well, what have you been doing that you think you need to get tested?”
Whereas the reality is if you’re sexually active you should be getting tested every six months or so, regardless of weather you’re showing symptoms or not. So I think one of the things I’d like to do would be to work around that and normalise the idea of going to get tested.
And then the other thing that I’d love to do is to see how we as a community in Ireland could work together to support LGBT people in countries where they’re hugely at risk. Countries where homosexuality is still criminalised, where people are frequently beaten to death for being LGBT and can’t be out.
So if there was something that we could do to give our support, even just a presence, whether that’s online or anonymously.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Nightline a lot of the colleges do?
Yeah I heard of Nightline when I was in college, but can you explain it for our readers?
It’s kind of peer to peer online instant messaging support, and it’s all anonymous.
So even something like that, if that could be developed, that would be amazing. Watch that space, because I don’t have all the answers on that yet, but we’re getting there, it’s the start of the journey.
What do you think is the next big issue for the LGBT community to rally around?
I really think it is to kind of look globally. There is so much risk there for people in other countries and I think that it’s definitely one of those things that, you know, those of us who are in a position where we can speak out and know that we’re going to be safe about it, it’s kind of our job to stand up for the people who can’t.
If you look at the people who’ve gone before us and paved the way, they were kind of fearless about it. I think that now that we’re in a position where we’re quite lucky, we need to extend that help out to the LGBT people across the world who need that boost up to get started.