New Delhi: After he came out of the closet, his mother printed a newspaper advertisement disowning him. He is the only known person of royal lineage in modern India to have publicly revealed he is gay. Also known as the gay prince of Rajpipla, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has not had it easy, unlike other ‘normal’ princes of India.
After coming out, Gohil set up the Lakshya Trust in Gujarat, a charity for LGBT people in his conservative home state, and became a champion for gay rights. He has made numerous international appearances, including on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Married once under societal pressure in 1991, Gohil got divorced after a year. Although he had expressed his thoughts about adoption earlier, he thinks its a far-fetched dream in India at the moment.
On Thursday, after the Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex in India by partially scrapping Section 377, the 52-year-old Prince spoke to DB Post about how the real fight has just begun.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. What are your views about the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377?
A. This is a historic verdict, not just for India but for the world over. This is not the end of our battle but it is the beginning of a new fight for our rights from the society. One thing good that has happened is that atleast the hon’ble judges have shown to the world that there is something called humanity in this country. Hypocrites have no value. This fight is based on truth and honesty and truth has always been victorious.
Q. Do you think the verdict will change the perspective of the society towards LGBTIQ community?
A. This verdict will definitely be a strong foundation for our fight but I won’t say that the society will accept it very soon because what happens legally and what happens socially is very different in our country. But definitely change has started taking place and one of the best things that has happened in India is lot of students are taking initiatives to spread awareness. I have recently developed a module for a university which is exclusively talking about the LGBT issue. So, if the educational insitutions and universitites educate the youth about the issue, it will be very good for the country as the youth are the future of the nation. Students being aware will help us in our fight for our social right.
Q. What kept people closeted – legal or societal concern?
A. Both are equally responsible. Legal, because this law has been misused by authorities. Police has been harassing people and widespread discrimination was happening as the law criminalised homosexuality. Now, that this legal recognition has been given to us, the society has to accept it. If anyone discriminates, it will be regarded as contempt of court – which is illegal. So, today if someone tries to throw a person out of his/her job because of their sexuality then it can be held up against them because it will now be a question of human rights of an individual. So, we have strong foundation now.
Q. Do you think discrimination will stop?
A. Discrimination will still happen even after the SC verdict. But now we have something to rely on. We have a base to say that if SC has given us equal rights then ‘who are you to discriminate against us?’ We can go to the court and fight for our rights.
Q. Did you personally face any legal troubles because of your sexual orientation?
A. Ofcourse, yes! I faced a lot of discrimination. My parents had taken out notices publicly disowning me from the family and ancestral property. Infact, it was also aired on national TV that this whole act of theirs is illegal as there was no law in India which says you can disown somebody just because the person is gay. This has nothing to do with 377. People just took advantage of the section and misused it. It was necessary that the law had to be read out.
Q. Marriage of two individuals of the same sex is still not allowed, what do you have to say about that?
A. We are not even advocating for marriage or adoption rights yet. Those things are far-fetched. We are just focusing on getting societal rights right now. It is a priority. It took us two decades to get our legal rights, so, I don’t know how many decades it will take to get our societal rights. It is only after those are established that we can think about our other rights. I don’t think legal gay marriages in India will happen in my lifetime. It might take another 30-40 years. No use talking about these things as yet.
Q. Any plans of getting married any soon?
A. No, No, No. No chance in India as yet.
Q. When did you first get to know about your sexual orientation?
A. Around puberty.. 13-14 years of age. The time when we try and explore our sexual maturity. I did not know what it was. I had no communication because being born in a royal family is very different than being born in any other family. There is no communication with the outside world as such. I grew up in a very confused state of affairs.
Q. How does it feel to have the title of first gay prince of the world?
A. It’s a big responsibility towards the community. People look up to me as their icon and role model. Also, it’s my duty to help and support people who need me.
Q. Have you and your family reconciled?
A. Ya. Absolute reconciliation has happened. It’s about how much you are educating the people. Initially, they have issues but gradually as they become educated, they accept and support you.
Q. Did your wife finally understand what you were going through?
A. I have no clue as we don’t talk at all. I don’t know if she has found out about it or not. Ofcourse, she must be reading in the papers about me but we haven’t had any communication thereafter.
Q. Do you think the LGBT community is aware about their rights and about one another?
A. Depends, on the geographical and cultural area of the individual. Not many in the community knew about their rights. Even I didnt know for a long time about Section 377. I think the media has really made this public and lot of publicity has been generated about this law so now people across the country have kind of realised. Actually, most of us know about it and those who don’t, we are trying to educate them about it. The community has organisations all over India. My organisation, Lakshay Trust, has been around for 18 years to spread awareness amongst the community.
Q. Please tell us about the LGBT centre you are planning to build?
A. I am developing a centre in one of my royal establishments. It has been my dream project. With the help of crowdfunding site Ketto, Rs 1.99 lakh has been generated. The target is Rs 3.45 lakh. The project I was doing was in the anticipation of the SC’s judgement. After the verdict, many people will come out to their parents and when they do, their folks will not understand them. They will need social support. So, my centre is aiming at social empowerment and financial empowerment which will help the society to come to terms with their sexuality and provide them with a safe space where they can rehabilitate till they can go back and join the mainstream society.