Battle royal against homophobia

From the Rajpipla palace grounds in Gujarat, Manvendra Singh Gohil is celebrating India’s real independence. Manvendra Singh Gohil, whose name would be prefixed with ‘Prince’ if royal titles had not been abolished, is not just a face adorning the walls of palaces in Rajpipla. Since coming out as a gay in 2006, he has leveraged his privilege to talk about LGBTQ rights and what it means to be a gay man in India.

Gohil has come a long way since being shunted out by his family to being a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show — which he says was a turning point in his life — to being an ‘Undercover Prince’, on what he calls yet another scripted reality show.

He’s now in the news for opening his palace grounds to marginalised LGBTQ persons, and sees a future where he’ll not just provide shelter but also vocational skills to them. This he aims to do with a learning centre by mid-2019 – for which he’s raising funds on the crowdfunding site Ketto – to help beneficiaries become truly independent.

He talks with Patriot about the decriminalisation of gay sex and his own struggles.

First, of course, your reactions to the SC verdict striking down Section 377.

This is a historic day for us. Today is the true Independence Day. While India may have got its independence on August 15, 1947, this is the day we, the LGBTQ people have finally got their independence from colonial laws that have suppressed us. It’s the victory of rights and the truth. This will help our community be truly free and get accepted by society and get our social rights.

How did you feel about the Supreme Court’s hearings on Section 377? Did you believe a positive outcome was near?
The Section 377 case was a dispute of humanity versus hypocrisy. I was thinking, if there are any humanitarian values left in our country then we stand a chance to win, but if the hypocrites in our country are more than the humanitarians, then we will lose.

It’s very simple, it’s very basic. Why we lost earlier was because of the hypocrites in the country, because the religious leaders that came against us. It was the government that instigated them. They are playing an important role in our judicial system. You may say that our judiciary is independent but it’s not. Government’s interference is there and has always been there.

At a personal level, what is your aim behind opening an LGBTQ-friendly learning centre?
This whole idea came from my own life. When I came out as gay to the media in 2006. I was thrown out of my home, then disowned and disinherited and made to feel socially and financially disempowered.

In India, parents have a very difficult time in accepting a child who is gay or lesbian. Even despite telling them they will pester you to get married to the opposite sex.

So, it’s very important to empower the community to be able to support themselves. This is why I’m starting a learning centre, to educate the community, to help them choose a vocation. To teach basic skills like computer and English language, which is not a luxury but a necessity.

Do you help shelter men and women who have been thrown out from their own homes?
Other than the learning centre, I’m also building a shelter home which will house 20-25 persons. Even at present, if someone comes to us seeking help, we do whatever we can, as per our capacity.

If someone is thrown out of their home, they will be on the road. They are rejected by their own family and friends which makes some even contemplate suicide.

We work with parents, and educate them and even seek those parents’ help who have accepted their child.

How is your relationship with your parents now?
The royal establishment where the ground has been opened to LGBTQ persons was a gift from my father as a process of reconciliation. The 15 acres was gifted to me. Even the foundation stone for the LGBTQ centre was laid down by my father.

See that’s why I don’t blame them but I blame the ignorance. I may have done the same thing. Even educated people don’t know about homosexuality, then forget about others.

Also, what I learnt was when they see value in you then the very same parents will bring you back into their family. When I was disowned by my family I was called by Oprah Winfrey the very next year in 2007. And that was a turning point.

There are a lot of Oprah fans in the royal family, so now they feel very proud of me. They say you’re the only royal from India who has been on Oprah. My cousins and nephews want to take selfies with me because they realise that I’m of value. Else why would Oprah call me all the way to Chicago? Not once, but I’m the only Indian to be on her show three times. Not just that but I’ve also been on Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

I tell my friends, become something in life and then they’ll (your family and friends) see value in you and the same society, the same parents, the same friends that threw you out will embrace you.

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