02 Nov 2013 09:00
First gay males' Mr. Handsome competition in Nepal
The contestants are coming out, one at a time, wearing only jeans, neckties and cowboy hats. Some are a little stiff. Clearly nervous. But they have a reason to be nervous: They are participating in the first gay beauty pageant: Mr. Handsome, the first of its kind in Nepal. Some are coming out to families and friends by participating here. As the minutes pass, the participants become more and more confident, like they have been out their whole life and have performed many times. They show their moves, facing hundreds of spectators, parents and well-wishers, and they smile.
Homosexuality has been legal in Nepal since 2008, which is one of the most liberal Asian countries, but contestant tell stories of being abused and thrown in jail. In Nepal, homosexuality is often seen as a product of reincarnation and thereby a punishment for poor choices in a former life and same-sex marriage is seen as an import from Western and European culture.
The Mr. Handsome pageant was hosted by the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepalese NGO focusing on LGBT awareness activities, as a way to fight discrimination across the country on the 2 of November 2013. The NGO asked for contestants through its 40-something offices and was ecstatic when they received 35 entry applications. They had expected none.
Prim Pakrim, 22 is one of the contestants, is from Kathmandu. When asked why he's decided to attend the pageant he said “because I’m gay and I'm happy being gay." His family is aware that he is gay but he thinks a beauty pageant like Mr. Handsome can change people's views on gay people and will hopefully end the discrimination gays are facing in the country.
Anup Shrestha, one of the runner ups, from Chitwan, is extremely happy for his prize. He is coming out as being gay by being a part of this competition. He said: “We are intelligent, and we are happy to be gay," and added “There are hundreds of people like us living in Nepal. It´s a wonderful life and we can´t hide it any more” He is now ready to face his family and all the questions that come along with his coming out.
On the stage the contestants are asked what they would say to a headmaster who, as many is currently doing in Nepal, is refusing gays access education. Biswo Raj Adhikari answered, “Every gay and lesbian should have equal rights to education. They should not be isolated or discriminated for their natural identity because being gay or lesbian is not a disease but a feeling.”
Sunil Babu Pant, BDS president, said: "This programme has encouraged gay men to reveal their hidden talents and will create more awareness about gender and sexuality” and added "Although treatment of gays has improved in recent years, many are still not willing to come out openly.” Sunil hopes the competition will become an annual event.
The country’s new constitution is expected to define marriage as a union between two adults, regardless of gender, and to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Photos and Text by Ulrik Pedersen