Bharat Mahajan, a 28-year-old mental health services manager working on the frontlines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was on Sunday crowned Mr Gay New Zealand 2021.

The winner of Mr Gay New Zealand will have the chance to represent the country at the Mr Gay World competiton that is scheduled to take place in Johannesburg later this year.

Mahajan from the town of Thames was judged the winner at the Ending HIV Big Gay Out event, just hours before Auckland went into a level three lockdown on Sunday night. The health worker was back at work the next day at the frontlines as the city dealt with a new Coronavirus outbreak. The runner up was 24-year-old Thomas Notton from Auckland. 

Mahajan thanked his fiancee and whānau (extended family in Maori language) for their support. 

“Thanks to all those people that have supported me and seen something in me, even when I struggled to see that in myself. That’s the one thing I’ve really worked hard to correct, which is believe in yourself before you start believing that people will believe in you,” Mahajan said in a statement after his win. 

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 Mahajan was one of the favourites in the competition having won the most points in the six segments of the competition that included one-on-one interviews, charity fundraising, public speaking, online vote, opinion piece and LGBTQI knowledge test. The challenges were spread over two days and was preceded by a three-week long public campaign.

Mahajan acknowledged his migrant roots after his win. “It’s a huge step forward for our migrant population in Aotearoa (Maori language name for New Zealand) and I see this as empowering that specific group in our community that sometimes struggle to find or ask for support,” said Mahajan. 

Mahajan’s father is from the Middle East and his mom is Indian-origin. He grew up with his stepmother and their Māori family which he described as “quite a wholesome experience”. 

During the competition Mahajan said that he wanted to use his time as Mr Gay New Zealand to focus on improving services for the LGBTQI community in the rural areas of the country. 

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 “Living in a rural community and managing the mental health services for the DHB (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,” said Mahajan.

Mahajan has his work cut out for the next 12 months of his reign as Mr Gay New Zealand – as ambassador for NZ AIDS Foundation to promote the end HIV by 2025 campaign. 

“This is the opportunity that you can’t take for granted… some people can’t voice their own opinions so you’re actually standing up for those who can’t really do much.  So it’s a huge responsibility.”

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