Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil is the world’s first openly gay prince and is putting his fame to good use.
He plans on opening a LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and allied) support center on Royal grounds in India.
Manvendra is the 39th direct descendant of the 650 year old Gohil Dynasty Of Rajpipla in Gujarat State in western India. He is the most likely heir to Maharaja of Rajpipla.
At great risk and consequence, the Crown Prince came out as gay in 2006. He was quickly disowned by his family and disinherited from the ancestral property.
But that didn’t stop Prince Manvendra from forging his own path and his story captured the attention of the world’s media.
Oprah Winfrey invited him on to her talk show twice and this year he starred in an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. During the episode taught one of the world’s most famous families the difficulties of spending your life in the closet hiding your true self.
‘Before coming out, I was living a double life and a life of lie and falsehood which threatened my mental health condition to succumb to a nervous breakdown,’ Prince Manvendra told Gay Star News.
‘After coming out my life has become transparent, honest and with a sense of relief and with the freedom to do what I am without fear.
‘My mental health condition has also improved since I always wanted to live a truthful life.’
Coming out of the closet and into the mainstream
India’s media and public were very homophobic towards Prince Manvendra when he first came out. Some protestors even burnt effigies of him on the streets.
But Prince Manvendra persevered and was determined to raise the awareness of LGBTQA issues. He believes his ‘fight based on honesty’ over the years has helped shift attitudes towards him and towards the LGBTQA community.
‘Since I happen to be the first member of a royal family belonging to a rich cultural heritage to come out openly as gay to the world and my story has inspired the community not only to accept themselves but also so come out to family and by some of them to come out to the public in media,’ he said.
‘My coming out opened the Pandora’s box which led to discussions and debates on issues of homosexuality which though existed in our society since bygone era, but yet there is taboo and nobody speaks about it resulting in developing misconceptions on it.
‘My story has helped change the mind set of the society and brought about mainstream our issues with support from the influential non community members.
The Crown Prince knows all too well the need to have a safe place away from homophobia and societal stigma.
He also personally understands how hard it can be for young people to become independent from their families. People in India are attached to their families, even if their are not accepting of their gender identity or sexuality.
‘In India most of the community gets emotionally blackmailed by parents to get married to the opposite sex even if they resist and come out to them,’ Prince Manvendra said.
‘Some of them succumb to the marriage pressures because they are so much mentally conditioned to be attached to their parents and those who don’t listen to parents are thrown out from homes and boycotted by the society.’
He hopes his new LGBTQ center will help people develop professional skills to help them become financially and emotionally independent.
‘Social empowerment is necessary where a support system is developed to live independent from their biological family,’ he said.
‘Most of the community are also financially dependent on their parents since we live in joint family system sharing the same roof and eating together.’
A new hope
Prince Manvendra’s plan to open a LGBTQA support centre on his family’s Royal grounds would have been unthinkable 11 years ago when he first came out.
But that is exactly what is about to happen. Along with advocacy organization, Lakshya trust – of which he is the chair and co-founder – Prince Manvendra will soon break ground on Hanumanteshwar 1927, a place where all people can come to feel safe.
Hanumanteshwar is the village where the center will be built and is the spiritual home of Lord Hanuman, a Hindu God. The village was developed by Prince Manvendra’s great-grandfather in 1927.
Hanumanteshwar 1927 will sit on the banks of Narmada, India’s third longest river.
The center will advocate for the social, economic, legal, psychological, spiritual and health aspects of LGBTQA people in Gujarat.
Services will include; weekly social and support meetings, a library, computers, jobs skills training, a music therapy room, conference center, community kitchen, housing and a medical clinic.
The center wants to create hope and understanding. It also wants to promote equality, cohesion, and visibility in the community, and elicit action and spread truth through education.
Its ‘mission is to be a catalyst for these things through which all people regardless of their sexual orientation, identity, expression or preference may enjoy the same rights, stability and serenity enjoyed by most today’.
‘It is important for the LGBT community to go to a place where they can experience the freedom to be who they are even if it’s for a moment,’ Prince Manvendra said.
‘Most of them in India are forced to be in the closet due to stigma and discrimination faced by them on coming out. That’s why it’s important for them to be in a place where they feel safe, secure and accepted.
‘This centre will give them the independence to do all those things which they are unable to do living a double life in the society.’
When does it open
There’s still a bit more work that needs to be done before the center can be opened.
Prince Manvendra is looking for volunteers and staff to help ensure the smooth running of the ambitious project.
But importantly the center needs finding and Lakshya Trust has started a crowdfunding campaign to encourage people to make donations to make sure it gets up and running soon.