This week we had the amazing honor of interviewing Manvendra Singh Gohil. He is the world’s first openly gay prince. The prince was born in Ajmer and hails from the proud Rajpipla royal family. Manvendra Singh Gohil is also the founder and chairperson of The Lakshya Trust. The Lakshya trust works with the LGBTQ community in India and fights relentlessly for the community. The Lakshya Trust also trains female field workers. These workers also educate women married to MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) about safe sex practices.
On The Prince’s support system.
“In terms of support, Ashok Rao Kavi gave me a lot of support. He has been my godfather and my mentor and also happens to be the first person in India to come out as gay. In terms of support from the family, my father’s uncle supported me a lot. My secretary, who works for me in Rajpipla has also supported me throughout.”
Can you talk to us about The Lakshya Trust and what the trust does?
“The Lakshya Trust was founded in the year 2000 by myself and a couple of my gay friends. We wanted to basically give a platform wherein the LGBTQ community could come together and address some of our common issues. The issues could quite literally be anything, really. It could be related to ‘coming out’, marriage pressure, legal issues, police harassment, and even HIV related issues. Fortunately, we got great support from the Government of Gujarat and we were able to work with them. We worked with them in raising HIV/AIDS awareness amongst the MSM and the transgender population. This is how we started and even today 85% of our funding comes from the Government.”
“We have also now diversified towards working on other issues like aging issues, issues that wives of gay men come across and domestic violence against women even from the general population. ”
“My latest project is to build an LGBTQ campus that can help in educating and training LGBTQ people. This initiative will, hopefully, help them earn their livelihood and help them learn new skills. There will also be medical facilities and other facilities available on campus that can help them in a major way.”
How has the LGBTQ community evolved in India?
“For an activist like me, the change is very welcome. There are a lot of people who are not from the community, supporting us and this support is increasing day by day. This is a very positive sign. This increase in support is very vital and it will help us mainstream a lot of our issues in the society. I think this is very important.
Furthermore, there are a lot of students who approach me and a lot of student groups also approach me and invite me to talk in their universities and schools. This is also a key development because, if students take an interest in such issues, it will help the country in the long run. They are the country’s future and we can rest assured that the country is in good hands. Hands that will also extend support to the LGBTQ community.”
Do you think things have changed significantly post Section 377 amendment?
“Things are definitely changing, but things are changing slowly. Personally, I think we should give this time. We should give time to people and let them adjust. We can not expect groundbreaking changes to happen overnight! BUT, what definitely has helped is that we now have a strong foundation of legal recognition. This legal recognition will, no doubt, help us because this has given us our human rights back which was denied to us for a very long time.
The important thing now is to educate the masses at all levels and that is exactly what’s going to help us achieve our rights on a grand scale.”
On ‘coming out’ and on being an Indian prince.
“I think coming out, for me, was very important. It was necessary for people to start talking about a part of our society that has existed from ancient times. We have evidence in the form of Kamasutra and the Khajuraho temples and many other pieces of evidence that exist to this day and age. But, because of the hypocrisy that has prevailed in our society, people have been historically shy in talking about these topics. Forget about homosexuality, even sex education has been a taboo topic in the past.
The main purpose behind my coming out was to shed light on these topics. I was very confident that a person from my background coming out is definitely going to hit the headlines, not just in India but the world over. This turned out to be very true because just a few months after coming out I was invited to The Oprah Winfrey Show. This hit the international headlines and the whole world came to know that India is a country where homosexuality has existed in ancient times and this, in turn, made it necessary for people to talk about the entire issue.
Although this led to a lot of sacrifices from my side, for a larger cause, I was willing to go through the motions. Something like this that has the potential to give freedom to millions, is worth the fight and worth a lot of sacrifices. This, I truly believed in and has helped me stay headstrong.”
The Undercover Prince on The Oprah Show and Keeping Up With The Kardashians
“Whenever such opportunities came to me, I took them. This wasn’t for my own publicity or for my own fame. I was born famous! Being born in a royal family, I didn’t need publicity or fame. I was born with the media’s eyes on me. The whole purpose behind taking up these opportunities was to educate the whole world. These are very famous shows. I am the only Indian to be on her show three times. These things DO matter. Every single time I was on the show, a new angle or a new law was discussed. A lot of issues and a lot of misconceptions that people carried about India were discussed and this interview was also helpful in me getting invitations from other countries. I was able to get in touch with so many parliamentarians, ministers and even people from Hollywood.
Support started pouring in from all over the world.
It was very important for the whole world to come together. I even started an organization called ‘Ekta Transglobal Foundation’ on the basis of the Sanskrit saying ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which translates to ‘The whole world is one family’ because I wanted the whole world to unite and come together in addressing this issue. Very fortunate that I was able to meet Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and had dinner with the then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni. I got support from Hollywood, too and met Cyndi Lauper, Alan Cummings, Paula Abdul, and many others. There’s quite a long list!” the prince stated and chuckled amicably.
The prince further continued and said, “Appearing on shows like these is important because it educates the youth. These shows are predominantly popular amongst the youth and this really helps in educating and to garner their support.”
Lastly, do you have any advice that you would give to people on coming out?
“Self-acceptance is the first and foremost thing that any individual should do. It doesn’t matter what their gender or their sexual preference is, they should first be willing to accept themselves. That is where it should start. Secondly, one should feel proud of their sexuality and should not harbor any guilt.
Coming out to their parents, and this is very much in relation to the Indian context, we are all so mentally conditioned to be attached to our parents. They know our weakness and they might try to exploit this. We should be prepared emotionally, financially and know how to deal with this. I would tell people to have a strong support system that can help them through the process.”
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