Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the crown prince of one of the oldest royal families in India, came out as openly gay in 2006. Being the the first person from a royal family to do something 'unconventional' as this was certainly not a simple deal for him or his family. He was publicly disowned by his mother, and his effigies were burnt by the people of Rajpipla, the place he calls home.
But later on, in 2007, the prince was called as a guest on the Oprah show, (not once but three times later as well.), and things started to change for him. The man has been dedicatedly working for the LGBTQ community even before he came out as openly gay. He also runs a trust and is the brand ambassador of the AIDS Health Foundation.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the US, now has branches in 36 countries. Their mission is to treat 20 million people by 2020. And the prince helps them in the achievement of this goal, by increasing the visibility of the organisation and of the work they do.
His efforts to ensure a better India for people in the LGBTQ community are tremendously inspiring to say the least.
A jovial, environmental-friendly person who enjoys vermiculture, and also works for the conservation of old monuments, has been fighting with utmost dedication for the cause he believes in. His aim is to keep people informed and be up for a healthy debate and discussion to happen around this topic.
In an exclusive, candid interview with ScoopWhoop, the prince told us all about his work, his coming out, and his thoughts on Section 377.
Life as a prince
Being a prince does not carry any significance these days, but it sure comes with its perks. Since the time we became a democracy, there are no special powers that reside with the royal family except the ritualistic powers that come with ceremonies during the festive season; which nobody other than a member can perform.
"My position as the prince does help me in the kind of work I'm engaged. Lobbying for my cause is certainly easier with the platonic position I hold. People look up to us as custodians of the rich cultural heritage we have inherited."
"The fact that they have a grudge against the government because of their inefficiency and lackadaisical attitude makes things different. They trust the royal family more for their betterment because of their displeasure with the government."
People come to him to settle petty disputes related to their farms and trivial familial problems. He is planning to tie up with the Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad, to start free legal aids service, because people aren't aware of their basic rights. "If they go to a lawyer, they'll end up selling their lands to cover the cost of the lawyers fee," he says.
On coming out
"Homosexuality in the royal family is pretty prevalent but nobody talks about it. They like to keep it under the covers. 10% of a certain population is considered to be homosexual. Temples in Gujarat, in this place called Dahod, clearly depict homo erotic figures just like the figures in Khajuraho. Homosexuality is visible to the naked eye, people just hate to admit it and instead live in hypocrisy."
"This hypocrisy is what compelled me to come out as gay. I decided that enough is enough, that the issue needs a proper debate and discussion. There was also this misconception that people in the higher class of the society cannot be gay, and I wanted to prove them wrong. Indians say that homosexuality is an import of the West, I will beg to differ and say that it is rather an export to the West."
We have written the Kamasutra- the ultimate guide to sex and sexuality, but we as a society will never openly discuss or debate on the topic of sex and sexuality. So much that we don't even want our children to be educated about it.
On how life has changed after 10 years of coming out
"I have only seen positive changes. I have become a transparent person, and I'm more confident. I have always wanted to be an honest person, and coming out has helped me live life as honestly as possible. Life has definitely become easier for me, I live my life as an open book now."
"My coming out has triggered discussion and debate to happen on the issue of homosexuality, and homophobia has reduced greatly. The ignorance, the wrong information, the misconceptions have taken a aback seat and paved way for intelligent discussion to happen."
On how his parents have finally accepted his identity
"My parents are very happy with the work I am doing now. Now they introduce me as the person who has been to the Oprah Show. Thrice. It's a big deal for them as no person from the royal family has ever been invited by Oprah on her show, by herself. With support coming from the non-LGBTQ community the mindset of people is slowly changing."
On Lakshya Trust
Lakshya Trust is the first organization that deals with female partners of gay men. Though the going has been tough, they have been able to help people through counselling, and their peer educators network.
"We interviewed the wives and found out that as long as their husbands are able to satisfy them sexually, financially, and mentally, and give them a certain sense of security, they didn't mind if their husbands were gay. They would rather have a man sleeping with their husbands, instead of a woman. Because then things get complicated."
"In association with HIV Indian Aids Alliance, we have been providing anti retro viral drugs for HIV patients, as well as condoms to promote safe sex. The MSM community in Gujarat is uneducated, and misinformed and most of them lead double lives, which is why safe sex is a necessity."
"Things are looking up for the members of the transgender community, but sensitisation for the community as a whole still has a long way to go. The kind of professions that the community is forced into and the atrocities they face by the hands of the authorities and people in general, is horrible. The NALSA judgement was a very bold step towards fixing this issue."
On steps to take for the betterment of the community
Our society hates bringing up any topic remotely related to sex and sexuality. But what we often overlook is the fact that if we don't talk about it, things will remain unresolved, crimes might rise, and then things might fall out of hands. When we asked the prince on what he thinks can be done to encourage discussion on these topics, he said:
"Education on sex and sexuality should be included in schools. Sensitisation workshops should be conducted for the state department; be it the police or the doctors, every person should be sensitised on the topic. We need role models to relate with. If a popular star shows his support for the community or encourages a discussion, many people will follow suit. The mindset of the society needs to change, although it is a gradual and continual process, it is one that needs to be executed soon."
On Section 377
Nobody could have put it better than this man. The tussle between homophobic, heterosexual people and the homosexuals, and people with fluid sexuality is without a a concrete reason. The case was filed by a heterosexual person, and most people fail to realize that the archaic Sec 377 is against every man and woman, homosexual or heterosexual - it criminalises the act of sex without the intent of reproduction. Anal sex, oral sex, and even leisure or casual sex fall under this purview. Isn't this reason enough to understand that the fight does not belong to just one community, it belongs to everyone.
"Section 377 is just humanity vs hypocrisy. If there's any humanity left in the country, we will win. If there's just hypocrisy, then we'll definitely lose. But it's our duty to fight this hypocrisy. Why are we still following the rules that the British made?"
On whether India will ever see the day when gay marriage will be legalised
With trade being at the core of any nation's progress, there will be international pressure on India to change some of its archaic laws that does not guarantee rights to a certain section of the population. He adds: