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Gay refugee wins drag pageant

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2014
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff.co.nz

Abraham Naim, known on stage as Medulla Oblongata, won the Miss Capital Drag pageant on Sunday.

Abraham Naim
OUT AND PROUD: Abraham Naim as his drag queen alter ego Medulla Oblongata.
Abraham Naim
CONTROVERSIAL: Abraham Naim was granted asylum in New Zealand last year because of the persecution he faced from being gay.

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A refugee crowned Wellington's top drag queen expects hate mail after wearing a gold burqa as he stripped on stage, discarding a head-to-toe Muslim woman's robe.

Abraham Naim, who goes by the drag stage name Medulla Oblongata, won the Miss Capital Drag pageant in Wellington on Sunday night.

Last year he was granted asylum in New Zealand because of the persecution he faced being gay in the Maldives where the official religion is Islam.

"I'm definitely in a better place now," he said.

In its decision to grant Naim refugee status last November, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment noted that Naim - who is openly gay and atheist - was "at risk of serious harm from state agents" and there was a "real chance" of persecution if he returned to the Maldives.

Naim said his own father had claimed he would rather have a drug-user son than a gay son. The two no longer speak.

A gay friend in the Maldives - a staunchly Muslim island state southwest of India - had his throat slashed and was almost killed for being gay, Naim said.

During his show at Ivy Bar and Cabaret in Cuba St he wore a face-veiling niqab, which he stripped off and dropped on the floor, followed by a black "abaya" gown, to unveil a skimpy gold dress complete with nipple tassels. He kept his gold "Emirati burqa" - a mask partly covering the face - on throughout.

All clothing - except the gold dress - was traditionally worn by Muslim women.

The act was to highlight the injustice faced by gay Muslims and "the oppression in the Muslim society", he said. It was inspired by a quote from Nobel prize-winning writer Albert Camus: "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion."

Naim is no stranger to controversy. When he recently posted a photo of his chest tattoo online - Arabic script that translates to "there is no compulsion in religion" - it drew hate comments.

He has no doubt Sunday's performance could also attract negative heat.

"I am pretty sure [I] will receive some hate mail. It's my life, I'm OK with that. My entire existence is controversial."

He had previously received death threats for being a gay former Muslim and said the abuse took an emotional toll. "Publicly you have to keep a strong face."

Otago University Islam specialist Taneli Kukkonen said the Maldives were more than 99 per cent Muslim.

Within the Muslim community, opinions on homosexuality varied greatly but looking at the religion as a whole there was little room for same-sex relationships.

No-one within the Muslim community contacted yesterday would comment.

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