I wanted to be a role model for a lot of people because when I was a kid, we did not have any queer role models.
Many from the LGBTQ community feel estranged and lonely. They are enclosed in their own space, questioning their identity with too little support from their peers and family. Ashish wanted to be a role model for such people. He wants queer people to look at him and empathize with him. With that motivation, Ashish participated in Mr. Gay India 2018 and was the first runner-up. Ashish is not only a model and a drag queen (Cumsin Kaseena), he is also a successful entrepreneur. He is the Co-founder of BeUnic, an e-commerce platform for LGBTQ entrepreneurs to sell their products worldwide.
Ashish said that the registration fee for the pageant itself was huge. It was not in his capacity to pay such a hefty amount. His fifteen female colleagues contributed and encouraged him to be part of the pageant – a moment that has been defining for him. He considers himself lucky to have had the support of such strong and empathetic women. They have helped him become the man he is today and continue to be his pillar of support.
Eighteen-nineteen years of my life, I struggled.
It was not a cakewalk for Ashish to come out to the world and participate in an event like Mr. Gay India, where his identity was exposed to the whole world. His teenage years saw Ashish bullied a lot by his peers at school. Being called "chakka," "hijra," "meetha," and other derogatory terms along with physical violence were a regular occurrence. He would find excuses to skip school. Even at home, his family was not that supportive. He was a victim of a difficult childhood with a toxic environment, and a lack of information fuelled his growing confusion about his sexuality. He would always ask himself questions like, "Why do I like Hrithik Roshan? And why do other boys like Katrina Kaif and Priyanka so much?"
It was again women in his life to whom he first came out about being gay. He said with a smile on his face, "One day, I finally came out to three girls in my school." These girls researched about the LGBTQ community and assured him that "he's completely normal." Eventually, he then came out to his brother, who again was very supportive.
My mom has studied law. She is very educated. But when I came out, she took me to a psychiatrist.
Our conditioning, values, and society play a significant role in developing a homophobic mindset. Although Ashish's brother was supportive, his mother did not accept him and took him to a psychiatrist to "cure" him. Ashish then realized that education does not always translate into an inclusive worldview.
Over the years, his mother educated herself about the LGBTQ community. She accepted his identity. Ashish was proud to recall that she even walked the pride parade with him. Today, Ashish's mother is the Co-founder of BeUnic and living proof that parents can learn to change their ideology and accept their children with love, patience, and effort.
While coming out to parents is necessary, do not expect them to accept you as soon as you come out.
Ashish has some hard-earned advice for those contemplating coming out to their families - Give parents some space; Make them understand and learn about the community; Allow your parents to have a conversation with other parents of LGBTQ members. However, he strongly condemns anyone even considering taking LGBTQ people to so-called psychiatrists who claim to "cure" them. With this context in mind, Ashish has taken steps to ensure his business takes mental health, especially in the LGBTQ community, seriously. BeUniq has hired a mental health professional specifically to provide support for LGBTQ people at any time.
Ashish also spoke about the "rainbow washing" phenomenon in a way that made it clear how pervasive and generalized it actually was, especially in the world of fashion. In the past, as well as with us, he had no qualms about calling out multiple mega-brands. On one side we have entrepreneurs like Ashish trying to empower members of a long-neglected community. On the other end, we have businesses that utilize pride month to generate profits from the pink economy without any support for the community.
People will get straight models in their rainbow T-shirts.
Pointing out how these "big brands" hire heterosexual models instead of LGBTQ models to pose in rainbow T-shirts, Ashish had some clear but straightforward guidelines for brands to be truly committed to the upliftment of the LGBTQ community. While designing a rainbow product, they should take suggestions from the LGBTQ community, they should direct financial support to the community, and most importantly, they should hire a diverse and inclusive workforce,
Ashish likes to walk the talk, and BeUnic exclusively hires queer models for their media shoots. He is among those rare entrepreneurs who is willing to utilize cutting-edge technologies like NFT in his business operations. And his efforts have seen his brand slowly expand globally. Back in 2019, he initially started his business with a focus on footwear. While that did not last long, he eventually met 21 LGBTQ entrepreneurs from different parts of the country selling various products. However, they did not have significant national or international reach. That's when he came up with the idea of BeUnic and started a queer-only e-commerce platform. He seemed proud and happy when disclosing that BeUnic had recently got orders from Greece and Spain for its products.
Ashish has demonstrated courage and resolve while never shying away from hard work. And we hope his actions inspire others to accept their own identity and carve a niche for themselves.