Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 39th direct descendant of India’s Gohil Rajput dynasty, had known he was gay from the age 12. However, he could only speak and live his truth over 30 years later.
In 2006, Gohil came out publicly to a local newspaper, becoming the first openly gay member of a royal family in India.
Homosexuality was illegal in India under Section 377, a law existing from the colonial-era, until 2018. Under this law, anyone committing sexual acts that are ‘unnatural’ and against nature could be imprisoned for life. Gohil’s very public coming out created quite a national scandal! His entire hometown was outraged at the news and turned on him.
“The day I came out, my effigies were burnt. There were a lot of protests, people took to the streets and shouted slogans saying that I brought shame and humiliation to the royal family and to the culture of India. There were death-threats and demands that I be stripped off of my title,” recalls Gohil.
His parents, the Maharaja and Maharani of Rajpipla, were also overcome with anger at the news. They proceeded to publicly disown him and cut all ties with him and then took out their own newspaper ads announcing that he was no longer their heir because of his involvement in activities “unsuitable to society”.
Gohil, however, was unfazed as he expected nothing less. Having grown up in an orthodox and conservative society that didn’t understand or recognize the queer community, he knew the uproar will be tremendous. The people around him even believed that homosexuality is actually a mental disorder.
As reporters and the public reached out to him to get his opinion on the reaction of his parents, family and the public, he only had one thing to say, “I don’t blame the people who are against me. I blame their ignorance on the subject.”
Today at 56, Gohil still believes the same. His advocacy and activism for LGBTQ+ rights remain the same that there can only be an improvement in the lives of the queer community if the public is destigmatized and educated about the homosexuality.
With this particular mindset, Gohil had founded his charitable organisation in 2000, Lakshya Trust, that operates with the aim to improve the rights and conditions of the LGBTQ+ community of Gujrat and subsequently India.
After the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018, Manavendra Singh Gohil opened up his palace grounds, the very same place from where he was thrown up when he publicly came out, to build a shelter for vulnerable members of the rainbow community.
In many ways, Gohil’s fight for the rights of and awareness about the LGBTQ+ community in India is deeply rooted in his own past. The prince was forced into a short-lived arranged marriage with a woman after revealing his sexuality. He later married his husband in 2013. He even had to endure years of torturous and intense conversion therapy.
On the Oprah Winfrey’s show, Manavendra Gohil said, “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.”
Gohil recounts coming out to his parents as gay years before he actually publicly came out to the world. “They thought it was impossible that I could be gay because my cultural upbringing had been so rich. They had no idea that there’s no connection between someone’s sexuality and their upbringing,” Gohil says recalling the time.
Instead of being supportive, his parents wanted to ‘cure’ him and his sexuality. They took him to various ‘medical practitioners’ and spiritual guides and he was even subjected to shock treatment. When those methods didn’t work, he was sent to religious leaders who vowed to make him “behave normally.” None of this worked, of course. But Gohil was left depressed, traumatized and suicidal by the time the horrendous conversion therapies efforts ceased.
Prince Manavendra is now at the at the forefront of the fight against the unethical practice called Conversion Therapy. “It’s important for people like me who have a certain reputation in society to continue the advocacy. We can’t just stop because the country repealed Section 377,” the 55-year-old prince said.
“Now we have to fight for issues like same-sex marriage, right to inheritance, right to adoption. It’s a never-ending cycle. I have to keep fighting,” he added.
His advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights revolve primarily around destigmatizing the taboo around the queer community. He has appeared on various national and international media outlets to share his story and message with the global audience.