Photo essay: Miss Gay Jozi 2017 – Boene Ntshilo takes home the crown

Photographs by Lee-Roy Jason

In its fifth-year running, Miss Gay Jozi crowned a new winner. After entering the competition for the past few years, Boene Ntshilo finally took the crown on 27 May. Born in the North West in a small town called Schweizer-Reneke, Boene self describes as “a fierce, 20-something Cancerian”.

“I first entered the Miss Gay Jozi back in 2015; it was my first pageant ever. I decided to partake after my sister encouraged me. And at the following year’s Miss Gay Jozi contest, I was named 1st princess.”

After struggling with low self-esteem, Boene says she worked up the confidence to not only participate in the competition, but also take the title as Miss Gay Jozi. Ahead of the competition this year, “I kept thinking about the reaction I want when I step on that stage. I want to separate the [girls] from the woman; I want them to see Miss Gay Jozi. And even when that small voice in me tried to surface and say, ‘But who do u think you are?’ I told myself every day, that I AM Miss Gay Jozi 2017. And by God’s grace, I am.”

Boene Ntshilo with 1st Princess Crystal Guns (right), 2nd runner up Ntokazy Tshabalala (left) and Miss Gay Jozi organiser Zsa-Zsa Whitney Gabor-Houston.

‘All my life I was shy. Miss Gay Jozi gave me confidence 
and taught me to take pride in myself, celebrated me
as a Gay person 
and embraced what society has always
deemed taboo, and made me fall more in love
with my gender identity.’ –  Boene

Speaking of the marginalisation and violence against members of the LGBTI community, in particular the high number of corrective rape attacks cases across the country, organiser Zsa-Zsa Whitney Gabor-Houston celebrates Boene’s win, saying: “She’s passionate and goal driven. This time around the judges sensed something in her that they believed in. I think it was also her response to the question about violence towards members of the LGBTI community, namely lesbians.”

According to Boene, her duties as Miss Gay Jozi are to fundraise for LGBTI charities, raise awareness around LGBTI issues and to be an influential ambassador for the LGBTI community. 

Last month’s event saw Miss Gay Jozi go back to the venue where it humbly started: Simply Blue in Selby, downtown Joburg. Today, the event – referred to as “Gauteng’s most prestigious drag event” – is “more than just a pageant, it’s a major production!” says Zsa Zsa. 

With this year’s theme being ‘Festival of Colour’, “the contest aimed to celebrate the LGBTI flag and the designer of the flag, Gilbert Baker who passed away this year”, Zsa Zsa says about the US gay rights activist.

As Miss Gay Jozi steadily celebrates and empowers members of the LGBT community, Zsa Zsa says it has also “given my trans sisters the platform to believe in who they are. And showing the general public we’re human too. We’re just like everyone: unique.”

‘I want my reign to be remembered as what made
the Miss Gay Jozi title fun and popular. I want to raise the bar
for my successor. I want to make gay sisterhood amongst all my
gay sisters fashionable, and I want people to know that we too
can love, elevate and celebrate each other.’ – Boene Ntshilo

At this year’s event, the crowd packed into the refurbished venue to watch contestants answer questions posed by a panel of judges and strut down the ramp in bespoke swimsuits, saris and ball gowns.

“South Africa is a diverse country and each year the contest is themed differently, celebrating a different culture. This year’s was Indian. So there was that; plus Bollywood with an African fusion.” 

Despite there being challenges such as a lack of sponsorship, Zsa Zsa says she is proud of the event and how it’s grown. “We’ve managed to do everything on our own and we pulled it off. Hopefully next year we’ll get more sponsors on board to expand it even further.” 

Words: Stefanie Jason

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