Twenty-eight year old Indian origin Bharat Mahajan was on Sunday crowned Mr Gay New Zealand 2021. Mahajan, a mental health services manager, will represent the country at the Mr Gay World competition that is scheduled to be held in Johannesburg this year.
The announcement was made at the Ending of HIV Big Gay Out event in Auckland on Sunday and hours before the city went into a snap three-day lockdown, after three coronavirus cases were reported.
The Mr Gay New Zealand competition involved three weeks of public campaigning and two days filled with intense challenges. Thomas Notton, 24, from Auckland was announced as the runner-up.
Mahajan won the most points from six different challenges; Online Vote, Online Opinion Piece, One-on-one Interview, LGBTI Knowledge Test, Charity Fundraising and Public Speaking.
Mahajan's father is from the Middle East, while his mother is of Indian origin. He grew up with his step mother and their Māori family.
“It’s a huge step forward for our migrant population in Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand) and I see this as empowering that specific group in our community that sometimes struggles to find or ask for support," said Mahajan.
He paid tribute to his fiancé and whānau (extended family in Māori) for their support. “Thanks to all those people that have supported me and have seen something in me, even the time when I struggled to see that in myself, But that’s one thing I’ve really worked hard to correct which is to believe in yourself before you start believing that people will believe in you,” he said.
The final round required him to address the public, talking about his reason for participating in the Mr Gay New Zealand pageant, and his plans for the next 12 months if he wins the competition.
Giving an anecdote about things he noticed while moving out to the town of Thames in 2018, he reflected on how much rural areas in New Zealand miss out on vital support services and resources. Mahajan explained that he wanted to use his year as Mr Gay New Zealand to improve services for LGBTQ+ people in the rural areas of New Zealand.
“Living in a rural community and managing the mental health services for the District Health Boards was the biggest eye-opener to some of the parts of Aotearoa that are untouched, and not fully resourced because the reach of organisations are not that far. So helping to increase that reach to those communities is going to be one of the biggest things for me that I want to work towards."
Among other perks and responsibility as Mr Gay New Zealand 2021, Mahajan will be an ambassador for NZ AIDS Foundation and will work with them to promote their major program of ending HIV in Aotearoa by 2025.
This is not the first time that an Indian-origin person was crowned winner of the local Mr Gay World competition in another country. In 2007, German national Jackson Netto who grew up in Kerala, was named Mr Gay Europe.
The Mr Gay World pageant - that combines the 2020 competition postponed due to the global Coronavirus pandemic and the 2021 edition - will be held in Johannesburg.