WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Glitz and glam align with passion and community in the North Country, where Watertown resident Juan Aguiar won the title of Mr. Gay Empire State New York in early October. Aguiar was first introduced to the pageant by Reigning Miss Gay Empire State New York Amber Skyy.

This was a first for Aguiar and he said he was shocked when he was crowned the winner. “That was a major big moment in my life,” he said. It was my first step into self-acceptance that solidified, you know, that I am a gay man, that I am out there. I cried because it was just like, you know, something that I never thought I could do.”

The pageant had three rounds: costume, beachwear, and formal wear. Aguiar partnered with local businesses and pageant experts to create the show-winning looks and prepare for a questionnaire portion.

Aguiar said that getting to where he is today hasn’t been easy, but the big win gave him a new sense of confidence to embrace his identity and culture. “One thing I stand close to is my heart, my culture, my family, my people,” he said. “Sometimes in America, you’re too Latino, but sometimes in Puerto Rico, you’re too American. And I’ve also felt in this middle category, and no matter what, Puerto Rico lives in my heart and I want to share that with the world because my island is beautiful.”

Promoting not just being accepted, but being embraced, Aguiar will hold his title for two years. He said his crown represents more than a piece of jewelry for him, that it will always be a symbol of the day he took the first step.

He has big plans to support the LGBTQ+ community and his platform, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That’s very close to my heart, as I’ve had people that I’ve known that have taken their own lives,” Aguiar said. “I want to push through to talk to people, to let them know that there is a way out, there are people that help, there’s tons of agencies. We’ve evolved into a great community that helps each other.”

For his own journey, he credits his family, friends, and “glam squad.” Aguiar said, “They always encourage me to be myself.”