On March 14, 2006, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil came out — the world’s first openly gay prince. He now runs the LGBT charity the Lakshya Trust in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil’s family ruled the Kingdom of Rajpipla for over 600 years. Following Indian independence in 1947, the prince’s great-grandfather gifted his kingdom to the new democracy. Then, in 1971, the Indian government abolished princely orders. However, Prince Manvendra’s father, the honorary Maharaja of Rajpipla, retains a high social status and still carries out traditional and charitable duties in the former kingdom.
Brought up in a palace by a nanny, Prince Manvendra recognised his attraction to men at an early age. However, like many of us of a similar age, he had no one to talk to about it and learned nothing useful from school sex education.
“Sex education in school was about lions, zebras and giraffes. I wondered — I’m not going to have sex with a zebra. Why are they teaching us this?”
At 25, Prince Manvendra submitted to an arranged marriage. Although he and his princess bride became good friends, they never consummated the marriage and later divorced.
However, the prince consequently suffered a nervous breakdown.
Now, people accept me
“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.”
Even before coming out to his parents, the prince discreetly established the Lakshya Trust, initially focused on HIV/AIDS education and prevention. However, after defying his parents and coming out publicly in 2006, he devoted himself fully to charitable work and activism.
In recent years, Prince Manvendra opened a refuge for queer people disowned by their families on a former palace site given to him by his father. Although originally disowned by his family, the prince says he and his father get on better these days. But he and his mother still avoid each other.
Manvendra married American man Deandre Richardson in 2013. Although India does not yet recognise same-sex marriage, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018, he hopes for further reforms.
“The judiciary is on our side and I am optimistic that they will legalize same-sex union soon.”