Mr Gay Europe will use win to highlight gay health issues
Mental health problems of gay men are of huge concern to winner
Robbie Obara, who is Mr Gay Europe, is studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Just back from Prague, where he won the crown for Ireland last weekend for the first time, he says his main concern is gay men’s health and he plans to advocate for this over the coming year.
The 26-year-old from Vancouver Island in Canada has been in Ireland since 2009 as a medical student at Trinity College Dublin. He had hoped to study medicine in Canada but is now “so grateful” that he came here.
Though the city is “very gay-friendly”, his experience of the exclusion and discrimination still felt by many young gay men here has been formative for him, making him realise how fortunate he is and how important it is for people like him to give something back.
“I see I am in a very lucky, privileged position and I can use this title to reach out to gay people across Europe,” he says. “On the one side I see the Mr Gay Europe title is a bit frivolous or superficial maybe. But it’s a contest that attracts a lot of interest in the gay community and so reaches a lot of people. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be a positive role model.”
Mr Gay Europe is now in its eighth year and Mr Obara came through the Mr Gay George contest (held in Dublin pub the George) last September and Mr Gay Ireland last October before gracing the catwalk in the Czech capital last week.
There are three areas of gay health he will champion during his term, he says. “They are biological health – that’s STDs and the like – mental health and social health,” he says.
“Regarding mental health, there have been studies here in Ireland showing that four out of five gay men, especially young gay men, have considered suicide and two out of five have attempted it.
“That horrifies me. In a way all my experiences, of coming out back home and working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities here [he has worked at the gay men’s health clinic on Baggot Street] have pushed me to want to work with marginalised communities.
“I see gay men’s social health as very important, not being isolated. We are all social beings and we don’t thrive when isolated or excluded. The fact that people are being killed or killing themselves because they are gay makes me very sad and very angry.”
He is also active in campaigning for choice in reproductive health. During his medical training here he has been struck by what he says is not taught in obstetrics and gynaecology.
“There was almost nothing taught about abortion, which I just thought was extremely dangerous,” he says. “When I asked about it, it was said abortion didn’t really happen in Ireland.”
He and other medical students founded the Reproductive Health Interest Group of Ireland, which has representatives now in each of the medical colleges on the island. It works closely with the international Medical Students for Choice and he travels to the United States twice a year to attend board meetings. He would like to see abortion taught in Irish medical colleges. “Abortion is part of safe medical treatment,” he says.
In the immediate future, he travels next week to Halifax, Canada, to begin a placement in a hospital there, before returning to complete his training at Trinity College Dublin in October.
Because of his commitments to college, he has forgone the opportunity to represent Ireland at the Mr Gay World finale in Antwerp, Belgium, tomorrow night. Conor O’ Kane (19) from Strabane, Co Tyrone will represent Northern Ireland, however.