Now Reading
India fights HIV with Valentine’s Day march at gay cruising spot

India fights HIV with Valentine’s Day march at gay cruising spot

India fights HIV with Valentine's Day march | Emma Goswell

‘Many people have asked me,’ India’s only gay prince says, ‘are the government not themselves criminals?’

This is Prince Manvendra Singh, the country’s only out and open royal who is working to help the LGBTI community.

‘The government is supporting you financially, knowing you spend their money solely on men who have sex with men,’ the prince adds.

‘I feel the government doesn’t have any sympathy with us. They are only concerned with getting HIV rates down – and the only way they can do that is to involve the community.’

India must fight HIV (even if it means supporting LGBTI people)

Having set up the Lakshya Trust, the prince and numerous volunteers are working to give out thousands of condoms and help provide support to people who are HIV positive.

Around two million Indians are HIV positive.

Today, on Valentine’s Day, dozens of people marched through the city of Vadodara in Gujarat state for a HIV awareness march.

Carrying banners promoting safe sex to gay and bi men, they gave out condoms.

A reminder: in India gay sex is still illegal.

Valentine’s Day march

The Valentine’s Day march included around 60 people, many of which concealed their faces so as not to be identified.

Today’s march went from Sayaji Baug park to the public toilets at the main bus station – which is the main cruising site in the city.

Two men are arrested here every week for engaging in gay sex.

Men will travel from rural areas as well as all over the city to hook up and have sex around this spot.

It’s also frequented by sex workers and thieves – but I’m told that gay men who are victims of any sort of crime at a cruising spot will never report it to the police for fear of being discovered to be homosexual.

Living in secret

I spoke to Munba – a 29-year-old gay man living in Vadodara with HIV. He’s not just hidden his HIV status to his family for a decade – he’s hidden the fact he’s gay too.

Almost half of the gay men I’ve met this week in India are married to women and have children. Munba is no exception.

But he’s leading two double lives – a double life as a gay or bisexual man and a double life of someone who is HIV positive.

His wife still does not understand why he insists on using condoms.

Gay man married to wife in India: ‘I did consider suicide.’

‘When I found out I was HIV positive I did consider suicide,’ he said.

‘I felt like it was the end of my life and there was no hope. I feel terribly guilty about it. And I feel incredibly guilty for not telling my wife.’

He’s in good health. However, the government is slow to provide financial support and the money can be three months late.

HIV positive people get free travel to hospital appointments, 500 rupees a month ($8, 6) to spend on food and a discount on all public transport.

Terrified to come out as HIV positive

Many people are still afraid to come out as HIV positive – for good reason.

I was told of one case where (despite it being illegal) a man was fired from his job as his colleagues looked in his bag and found his HIV drugs and reported him to management.

HIV positive children are banned from sitting with or playing with other children at school.

A decade on from Munba’s positive test result he’s now considering coming out about his status.

He told me: ‘The time has come for me to talk to my wife and to my family. I do feel like society is changing and I’ll be able to have that conversation soon. I’d like to be a role model now for others.

‘If I can get one message out there – it’s wear a condom.’