Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Today In 2006, Indian Prince Manvendra Comes Out

Manvendra Singh Gohil was born September 23, 1965. He is an Indian prince who is the son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat. He is the first openly gay prince in the world and the only member of a royal family known to be open about being gay. He currently runs a charity, the Lakshya Trust, which works with the LGBT community. It was on this day, March 14, in 2006, news that he was gay was first published in the India media.

Manvendra was born in Ajmer, the only son of Maharana Shri Raghubir Singhji Rajendrasinghji Sahib, Maharana of Rajpipla, and his wife Maharani Rukmini Devi. Manvendra's mother was born as a princess of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. He has one sister, Minaxi Kumari.

In 1971, the government of India "de-recognized" the Indian princes, and Manvendra's father consequently lost the official title of Maharaja and the privy purse (an annual pension) that came with it. The princes adjusted to the new socialist regime; the Rajpipla royals converted their family seat, the Rajvant Palace in Rajpipla, into a tourist resort and location for film-shooting. They also set up a second residence in Mumbai. The Prince was educated at Bombay Scottish School and at the Amrutben Jivanlal College of Commerce and Economics (one of the institutions in the Mithibai College campus in Vile Parle, Mumbai.

His parents arranged a marriage for Manvendra and in January 1991 he married Chandrika Kumari, a princess of Jhabua State in Madhya Pradesh. Manvendra says about his marriage:  "I thought that after marriage everything will be all right, that with a wife, I will have children and become "normal" and then I will be at peace. I was struggling and striving to be "normal." I never knew and nobody told me that I was gay and [that] this itself is normal and it will not change. That this is what is called homosexuality and it is not a disease. I tremendously regret for ruining (Chandrika's) life. I feel guilty, but I simply did not know better."

The marriage remained unconsummated. He says, "It was a total disaster. A total failure. The marriage never got consummated. I realized I had done something very wrong. Now two people were suffering instead of one. Far from becoming normal, my life was more miserable."

His wife filed for divorce after just over a year of marriage. Although further requests for marriage were received, he declined them. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 2002. He says:

“It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn't allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out in the open and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me.”
Upon being informed by the psychiatrists that their son was gay, Manvendra's parents accepted the truth, but stipulated that this matter should not be revealed to anyone else. He left Mumbai and began living full-time with his parents in the small town of Rajpipla.

In 2006, the journalist Chirantana Bhatt approached Manvendra. The Prince confided his sexual orientation and the mental stress he was going through as a closeted gay man to the journalist. On March 14, 2006, the story of his coming out made headlines in India and around the world. The "coming out" story was published first in the Vadodara edition of Dainik Bhaskar, a regional Gujarati language daily of the Bhaskar media group. It was covered the next day in all other editions of Divya Bhaskar, as also in Dainik Bhaskar (Hindi language) and Daily News Analysis (DNA), an English newspaper. The same day, it also made headlines in other English and vernacular newspapers across the country, and became a story that they followed up in their gossip and society pages for several weeks afterwards. Manvendra's effigies were burnt in Rajpipla, where people were shocked. Manavendra was jeered and heckled when he made a public appearance in the town.

The publicity and public humiliation caused pain to his parents and sister. His family accused him of bringing dishonor and disowned him.

He set up a charity for HIV/AIDS prevention. The Lakshya Trust trains female field workers who educate women married to men who have gay sex about safe sex practices.

Manvendra appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show on October 24, 2007. He was one of three persons featured in the show entitled 'Gay Around the World.' On the show he said, “I knew that they would never accept me for who I truly am, but I also knew that I could no longer live a lie. I wanted to come out because I had gotten involved with activism and I felt it was no longer right to live in the closet. I came out as gay to a Gujarati daily because I wanted people to openly discuss homosexuality since it's a hidden affair with a lot of stigma attached.” 

He inaugurated the Euro Pride gay festival in Stockholm, Sweden, on July 25, 2008.

He was featured in a BBC Television series, Undercover Princes, screened on BBC Three in the UK in January 2009, which documented his search for a British boyfriend in Brighton.

Since July 2010, he has served as editor of the gay male-centric print magazine Fun, which is published in Rajpipla.

In 2000, he started the Lakshya Trust, of which he is chairman, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention. A registered public charitable trust, Lakshya is a community-based organization working for HIV/AIDS prevention among men who have sex with men. It provides counselling services, clinics for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, libraries, and condom-use promotion. Lakshya won the Civil Society Award 2006 for its contribution in preventing HIV/AIDS among homosexual men.

The trust also creates employment opportunities for gay men and support for other organizations for gay men, and plans to open a hospice/old age home for gay men.

In 2014, Prince Manvendra launched Free Gay India, a grassroots campaign to raise awareness about India's anti-gay laws. "When I say that the homosexuals are not free in India, we don't have the freedom to love," he says.

This year, Mavendra opened up his 15-acre palace grounds to help house vulnerable LGBT people who might otherwise be "left with nothing" when "their families disown them after coming out."

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