It started as a joke, over drinks and a chat when his friends urged him to send in his photographs for the Mr Gay World Pageant in Antwerp earlier this year. Just for kicks, Nolan Lewis sent them across to the organisers.
“Imagine my surprise when I was selected to take part in the world finals,” Lewis laughs as he recalls his tryst with fame. Until recently, 29-year-old Lewis worked as a flight steward and moonlighted as a Tarot card reader and a crystal healer.
At 18, when he wanted to come out with his sexual preference, he first confided in his parents about his sexual orientation. “When I was entering my teenage, my mother would tell my sister and me a story about the birds and the bees and how one could get attracted to people from the same sex.
I think that really laid the foundation for a normal childhood,” says Lewis. But even though his mother was pretty liberal in her outlook, she wasn’t prepared for what Nolan had to say. “It is never easy for parents. My mother still accepted it but my father just wouldn’t. Over a period of time, however, he has come to terms with my sexual orientation and even wished me luck when I was going to Brussels for the pageant. That was touching.”
The pageant at Antwerp was a completely different experience, says Lewis. Apart from getting to know the city, Lewis was required to do different activities to prepare him for the finale. “There were boot camp sessions, a Human Rights conference and also an arts presentation that had to be done by every contestant,” Lewis says. All the sports events were organised by Rainbow Corps -- The gay and lesbian police force of Antwerp.
“The people in Brussels were supportive towards the Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual and Transgender) LGBT community. I was amazed by the response we got. Even the restaurants had a welcome poster at the entrances. These are small things but they really say a lot about a country. Though I cannot compare India to a developed country like Belgium, there is a still a lot we can learn from them, the first being showing sensitivity towards its own people,” he says.
At the contest, Lewis says he knew his limitations and therefore didn’t go overboard with his diet or exercise regime. “I wanted to make the most of things. I just had my intelligence backing me throughout the pageant.” He elaborates.
Not the first
Though Lewis is not the first Indian to represent India in the Mr Gay International Pageant, he is the first to make it to the top 10 finalists. In the past, Zoltan Parag Bhaindarkar, who participated in the Mr Gay Pageant in Los Angeles in 2008, was pressurised by the media. Similarly, Raul Patil an NRI, didn’t make it as far. An angry Lewis says, “I don’t want to taknames but such people give a bad name to the community. People look up to us and running away can further demoralise the community.”
Though he knew he was confident about his decision to take part in the contest, he was aware of the social and political repercussions that his family could face while he was away. “I knew there could be people who would come to our door to blacken my face but my friends and family were very supportive and that is what encouraged me to go to Antwerp with an open mind,” he says.
Lewis is hopeful that with time, members of the LGBT community will be accepted more and more in society. “I feel proud to be born in India. There are so many countries that publicly ostracise a person belonging to the LGBT community. People here still know about human rights and various legal procedures as compared to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Increasingly, a lot of Indians are now opening up to gays/lesbians and treating them as normal people. I know I can go out to a grocery store without people mocking me. Yes, there is a lot to be done but I am sure it will happen gradually.” Lewis is now trying to bring the pageant to India. “I have just been appointed as the National Producer for Mr Gay World. It’s about time people stop caring about the Gay prefix, it shouldn’t matter,” he concludes.