The recently crowned Mr Gay New Zealand Nicholas Francis (pictured) hopes to use his win to start conversations around mental health, violence, discrimination, sexual health and suicide in the Pacific rainbow community.
“I believe there needs to be discussions around these issues, especially with our transgender brothers and sisters,” Nicholas says.
“These are the issues we have been battled with for many years and will continue to do so in the future if we don’t act now.
“That’s why I believe it is time for a Pacific person to be chosen to stand up, have a voice and address these issues.”
The 27-year-old was born in NZ before moving to Samoa with his family as a child.
He returned back to Auckland in his early teens where he now lives and works as a Financial Advisor for Tower Insurance.
“At the age of three my family decided to move to Samoa to raise my brother and me,” Nicholas explains.
“While living in the islands I spent a few years in American Samoa and then moved to Apia where I lived in a small river-side house in Lelata.
“It was important to my mother that her children experience life with our extended family and be immersed in the culture.”
Nicholas adds he is very thankful for his humble upbringing as it has taught him the fundamentals of respect, putting family first and to appreciate the smaller things in life.
“While living in Samoa my dear mother became unwell and it was decided that we needed to relocate back to Auckland to my grandparents’ farm where I have lived at the same residence for the last 19 years.”
Although hesitant initially, Nicholas decided to enter the Mr Gay New Zealand competition as he wants to make a difference and says people shouldn’t have to feel different just because they do not conform to what society perceives as normal.
“My friend told me the competition wasn’t judged purely on looks but focused on the attributes a candidate possessed such as engagement, community outreach, public speaking, natural leadership ability and mana.
“I saw a real opportunity to make a difference and give back to my LGBTQIA+ community, as well as bringing the Pacific culture to the forefront and challenging the social and political bias that we face every day.”
Nicholas says through his own experience in the Pacific community he recognised there is a cultural divide.
There is a stigma attached to homosexuality. It is a taboo subject and this prejudice has been shared over generations.
“This mentality of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been taught because of our traditions and beliefs.
“My key focus after winning this title is to break the stigma and to keep the momentum of positive change for our future generations.”
To change these prejudices, there needs to be greater awareness and education of the LGBTQIA in the Pacific and other communities so there can be informed discussions about these issues.
This will help to change attitudes to lead and ensure that people get access to the right services at the right time, he adds.
The talented and confident Pacific young man is honoured to be chosen to represent the LGBTQIA community, especially his Pacific brothers and sisters.
“New Zealand is home to the largest Polynesian population in the Pacific, so reaching out to others to convey our message and show our presence will be a life fulfilling experience.
“I want to show the world that we are here and we are not going anywhere, and to show them they are not forgotten, and we are out there supporting them.”
A believer that knowledge is the most powerful tool a person can have, Nicholas intends to learn as much as he can and share that through being actively involved.
"Education starts at a young age and we need to learn from the statistics we have in New Zealand - the suicide rate for LGBTQIA+ youth are five times higher than their non-queer peers,” he says.
Also a New Zealand Aids Foundation ambassador, Nicholas will work alongside the organisation with future campaigns to raise awareness, as well as working with Out Line NZ – a helpline dedicated to giving people advice and support.
“It’s definitely a hands-on role - I want to get into the community and see what the core issues are and work with others to overcome our challenges.
“There is a lot of work to be done and I know it will not be easy but together great things can be accomplished.
“Using the great words of Martin Luther King: 'The time is always right to do what is right’.”