Nolan Lewis is unlike most 29-year olds. A model by profession, this Mumbai resident is also a crystal healer. However, come July 31 and he will be India’s first representative to the Mr. Gay World Pageant in five Howyears.
He follows in the footsteps of Jenna Talakcova, who initiated a worldwide debate on the rights of sexual minorities last year, when she became the first transgendered participant in the Miss Canada pageant after a much publicized legal battle with Donald Trump, forcing him to change the outdated regulations.
Competing with 35 other countries in Antwerp, Belgium, Nolan is currently on the 12th spot on popular votes. The competition, from July 31 to August 5, is likely to reach around 250,000 people. A human rights conference, comprising 500 delegates worldwide, concludes the event.
More than a possible win, Nolan believes, participation will help break barriers in a LGBT hostile country. “I’d rather be a freak than a stereotype,” he says.
It almost didn’t happen for Nolan. “We were in Johannesburg for a photo shoot last year. While watching the pageant on TV, we made a joke about how we should forward my photographs to MGW for 2013’s registrations. And we did!” gushes Nolan.
This isn’t his first brush with glamour. “I worked in Viva’s Pyaar Ka Mausam video when I was still in college,” he says. Working alongside him was Zoltan Parag, the first ever Mr. Gay India in 2008.
I asked Nolan why five years have gone by since Parag's contesting. “Why would anyone risk a political backlash or social ostracization by participating? It is a huge risk!”
India’s gay community is more visible than ever with Asia’s largest queer film festival being organised in Mumbai and prominent pride festivals gathering steam. A small but increasingly confident community is ‘coming out’ and living a visibly gay lifestyle. “Many clubs today have LGBT nights. I have queer friends who have married through religious ceremonies,” he says.
However, outside their cosy pockets, things remain grim for marginalized sexualities, even among the urban middle class. “Most of the other delegates are sponsored by their countries. I have to arrange for everything. While corporates have shown appreciation, no one wants to risk supporting an LGBT cause,” he rues. In contrast, more than 200 companies including the Citigroup, Apple and Starbucks came out in support of gay marriage earlier this year in the US.