The LGBTQ+ pageant with an agenda of empowerment

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A new Miss Calendar Queen is chosen each month. Photo supplied

Each month, three members of the LGBTQ+ community face off in a beauty competition where they match wits, walk runways and flaunt their style in the hopes of being crowned Miss Calendar Queen.

Miss Calendar Queen 2020, believed to be one of the first of its kind in Cambodia, is the brainchild of Yosef Manabat, a Filipino English teacher, artist, performer and event planner.

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Miss June, Bun Veasna aka Yu Por (left), with event organiser Yosef Manabat. Photo supplied

The pageant, which is hosted by Wings & Beers in Tuol Tompoung, premiered in February this year and is expected to wrap up with the finals scheduled for December or January.

“The pageant is considered a breakthrough concept as it claims to be one of the first successful gay beauty pageants here in Cambodia,” Manabat says.

Manabat has experience hosting charity events. He organised an event for victims of the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines in January. After successfully running a cosplay show in Cambodia, he launced Miss Calander Queen.

The pageant falls under the umbrella of MCQorg, an iconic beauty pageant for LGBTQ+ community members who are exceptionally confident, beautiful, talented, and intelligent.

Manabat tells The Post: “I continued with Miss Calendar Queen because as I talked with my local friends who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, [I found] they are very thankful to have a beauty pageant for the gay community like Miss Calendar.

“It’s like a dream come true for them as they are also a fan of international pageants such as Miss Universe, World, International, Earth, Supranational and Grand International.”

Each month a live competition is staged for three new contestants. The winning candidate has a chance to compete in the grand finale show at the end of the season.

“I only choose three qualified contestants each month because that is all Miss Calendar can afford. The prizes are donated by sponsors and friends.

“Each month the winner receives $100 in cash, a sash and a crown. The other two contestants receive $50 consolation prizes,” Manabat says.

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Winners Khon Chan Sonya (left) and Maria Ashley Arere Calara. Photo supplied

Taking a stand

Khon Chan Sonya, 25, a performer and self-proclaimed shopaholic, was crowned Miss Calendar Queen for March.

“The beauty of standing up for your rights is that others can see you [doing it] and stand up as well,” Chan Sonya says.

The month before, Maria Ashley Arere Calara (pictured) took home the crown for February.

Manabat says the winner of the competition must be a role model and understand the values and responsibilities of Miss Calendar Queen.

Anyone can join the competition as long as their heart is in it and they understand the ideas behind the event, Manabat says.

“I think the LGBTQ community here in Cambodia has a lot to offer – beauty, knowledge, heart and overwhelming talents. The LGBTQ community here is always ready to step up. They are just waiting for an opportunity.”

Chhean Sasophanith, a singer and dancer also known as Ju Lika, 24, competed in the July contest.

“I’ve been embraced by my new community. That’s what happens when you are finally honest about who you are. You find others like you,” Sasophanith says.

Due to Covid-19, July’s Miss Calendar queen wasn’t chosen until October 23, with the top prize going to Chuun Sakareach.

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The pageant nights

Each pageant starts with a parade of costumes and introductions.

Then the three contestants walk the runway in sports or athletic attire to show off their physique.

After that, they move on to the third round of the competition where they showcase their talents. Next is the evening gown segment where judges and fans can get a taste of the contestants’ personal style.

But the design of the gown does not count towards the total score. Instead, judges focus on how gracefully and confident each candidate presents themselves.

In the last round, contestants are asked questions to test their mettle under the spotlight.

Manabat says: “The event concludes with the host announcing the winner. In the event that the winner is unable to fulfil his or her duties, the first-runner up will take their place.”

Manabat says he plans to spice things up in the future.

“I have upcoming plans for Miss Calendar that will shock everyone, a big revelation that will be announced at the Queen of August event.”

Part of the appeal of the competition is giving the LGBTQ+ community a platform to speak about themselves and gender equality in the workplace and community, he says.

He adds that in the Philippines, working at beauty pageants is a popular job for members of the LGBTQ+ community. He says members of the community work as make-up artists, designers, planners, trainers and choreographers.

“I am very happy with my role as a host and founder of Miss Calendar Queen 2020. This brought meaning to my life here in Cambodia as an artist, host, performer, and a personality development coach for beauty pageants back in the Philippines,” he says.

“I understand that this event can help the LGBTQIA+ community in Cambodia gain confidence and maybe influence other potential event organisers that will help the community.”

He says aside from a small amount of money, the best prize for the contestants is the experience gained by performing in a beauty pageant.

For more information, visit Miss Calendar Queen’s Facebook page.