Just six days before the arrival of the Mr Gay World 2015 delegates in South Africa, history has repeated itself as Mr Gay India is forced to withdraw from the competition over threats to him and his family.
The Indian delegate is a part-time model and fashion designing post-graduate who works as an executive for a private firm in Dubai.
His deeply religious parents were reportedly advised by community elders to avoid attending their local mosque because of his participation in the event. Following the announcement of the delegates on social media, his father was hounded by religious leaders and the family decided to leave their home. They have since gone to ground.
The news was confirmed on Sunday by organisers of the international contest, who have decided to eliminate all references to the Indian contestant, including no longer mentioning his name, to reduce the possibility of an attack on him or his loved ones.
The delegate’s father told DNA India: “I am a five-time namazi [Islamic scholar]. I’d gone to pray in the mosque where community elders asked me, ‘Do you know what your son is up to? He’s brought shame on our community.’
“When I tried to reason, they made me leave, saying I was unwelcome till my son backs out from the competition and atones. I am worried about their threat of ostracism. He is my only son and this is what he wants to do. Why should it be anybody else’s concern? But we have to think of the community [and my family] since we live with them.”
The harassment and threats are reminiscent of disturbing homophobic incidents that took place during the 2012 Mr Gay World competition.
That year, Zimbabwe’s representative was forced to withdraw after his family received death threats; Namibia’s representative, Wendelinus Hamutenya, was hospitalised after being attacked prior to the event; and the Ethiopian delegate, studying in South Africa at the time, received death threats and was disinherited by his wealthy family. He has still not been able to return home.
India, one of the world’s largest democracies, reinstated a colonial-era law banning gay sex in December 2013. Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment under this law.
“It is unfortunate that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are not accepted everywhere in the world,” commented Coenie Kukkuk, Managing Director Mr Gay World 2015.
“We had no option but to accept his withdrawal and wish him all the strength needed to weather this storm. He was fully aware that there are risks and accepted it by entering, but to proceed under these circumstances is too much to expect from a delegate where his family is drawn into it.”
Eric Butter, President of Mr Gay World, was shocked at the turn of events. “We created this event to combat homophobia, but for a delegate and his family to go through this is not acceptable and we have to be sympathetic with him. We wish him strength is these difficult times. We salute his bravery,” he said.
Kukkuk’s concern about the Indian delegate’s situation was palpable but he also noted that some positives have come from the backlash against participants. “Debates about LGBT rights are enhanced and in certain communities, such as in Ethiopia, started for the first time where it was previously non-existent, and in that the delegate has already succeeded.”
Mr Gay World 2015 takes place from 27 April to 3 May in Knynsa and Cape Town.