World's first openly gay prince had endured shock therapy and marriage to cure his sexual orientation

Facebook/Manvendra Singh Gohil

  • As India prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of Supreme Court's verdict to revoke Section 377, the country's first openly gay prince recounts his 20-year-long treacherous journey to a normal life
  • Manvendra’s life has been a rollercoaster ride, and it started with excessive attention and adulation.
  • But a lot has changed in the last 12 years. Apart from many other fans, his own relatives now scramble to click a selfie with him.
Manvendra Singh Gohil, the crown prince of one of India's oldest royal families came out of the closet on Oprah Winfrey show in 2007. He did not have it easy, after declaring that he was gay.

As India prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of Supreme Court's verdict to revoke Section 377, the country's first openly gay prince recounts his 20-year-long treacherous journey to a normal life

His former subjects and community was outraged. People burnt his effigies, and his own mother took out a newspaper ad disowning him.

But a lot has changed in the last 12 years. Apart from many other fans, his own relatives now scramble to click a selfie with him.

"I am the one who went to Oprah Winfrey show thrice while none of them did," he tells Business Insider India.


‘From mental shock to therapy, my parents tried to treat me’

Manvendra’s life has been a rollercoaster ride, and it started with excessive attention and adulation. When he was ten years old, he was once a chief guest at a school function where he spoke. His mother did not have an adorable nickname for him. She used to address him as Yuvraj (prince).

"As I was growing up, I was attracted to the same sex but couldn't understand what's wrong,” said Manvendra. His parents understood his feelings even less.

They tried to ‘cure’ him, and made him undergo shock therapy and counselling. They even enquired if a surgery could fix him!

The ultimate Indian parent drama--jumping in a well

A psychiatrist however recognized his ‘natural’ feelings and tried to counsel his parents instead. But they chose to unleash the ultimate Indian parent drama.

“If you don't follow what they say they will emotionally blackmail you by saying---We will jump in the nearby well," he reminisces.

And a lot more pain was in store. "I was asked to try everything from being vegetarian to write Ram Ram, (the name of Lord Ram) thousand times." His parents also approached religious leaders. Sadly, a lot of them were either gay or lesbian themselves.

All this erratic activity confused Manavendra. "I was so unaware about the whole thing that I thought probably after I get married maybe I could become a heterosexual." His marriage only lasted 15 months.

Manvendra is no exception. As many as 80% of the gay men in India are married to women. This doubles the number of victims as women too are trapped in unhappy marriages.

Prince Manvendra's fight against Section 377 and HIV

Clearly, Manvendra had a long way to go, but 2019 is a much better year in terms of inclusivity. He brought in allies and took his good fight to a global scale. He appeared on highly rated television shows like ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’.

Now several universities invite him to talk to students about homosexuality. He was also asked to introduce the history of LGBT movements in textbooks. Prince Manvendra also fought against the draconian Section 377 which criminalises gay encounters, with his Free Gay India movement in 2014.

Now, that the Section has gone away, he travels around delivering lectures and participating in rallies to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS. He wants to raise a fund of $400,000 to house LGBT people at his palace.

He suggests that LGBT people should become financially independent before they come out of the closet. "The first thing parents would do is cut your finances."

But social restrictions on gay love are a paradox as ancient India had celebrated it, thousands of years before Christ. There is evidence of this everywhere.

"We come from a country where sculptures showing men having sex with men are openly displayed at Khajurao," Manvendra says.
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