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In Conversation With Manvendra Singh Gohil, The World’s First Openly Gay Prince

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In the year 2007, Oprah Winfrey introduced us all to the world’s first openly gay royal – Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, Gujarat. Since then, Gohil has been on the show twice. A prominent gay-rights activist, he is well-known for starting the Lakshya Trust, an NGO that works towards creating awareness about HIV/AIDS, especially among men who have sex with men.

Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with Gohil to discuss his work and his journey as one of the most famous LGBTQ people in the world.

As a prince, Gohil was expected to continue his family’s royal lineage. He recounts how difficult things were for him, when he first came out to his family in 2002. “They had disowned me and I was disinherited from the ancestral property. I was also blacklisted from getting invitations for public events.”

But the treatment meted out to him by his family and society didn’t discourage him. In 2006, he dared to talk openly about his sexual orientation, after which effigies of him were burnt in Rajpipla.

Despite the setbacks, Gohil chose to keep moving forward. “My journey as an activist is based on honesty, and the saying that ‘Truth always prevails’. I have always gained inspiration from Gandhiji,” he says.

In the year 2009, the prince was invited to the Sao Paulo Pride parade, where he spoke about safe sex and protection from HIV/AIDS. His work in promoting sexual health has also shown how it’s not just homosexual people who are at risk. Most gay men try to avoid social stigma against homosexuality by marrying women, something that Gohil had also done.

This makes the wife an easy target of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. She is unaware of her husband having multiple male partners, and sex without protection leads to her susceptibility,” explains Gohil.

This is just one of the outcomes of living in a homophobic society, and he weighs in on the importance of having more open attitudes.

Last year, the prince marched with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, leading the Pride march in Los Angeles. While there, he noticed a major cultural difference between American and Indian society. “In USA, children leave their parents as young as 18 and live a financially and socially independent life, whereas in India we believe in living with our parents,” he elaborates.

Comparing levels of awareness in India with USA, Gohil recognises education as the key differentiator. “Most Indians are illiterate, and even if they are educated they are not aware of the facts. This leads to lot of misunderstandings about homosexuality.

However, he perceives a change in the Indian society since 2006, when his sexual orientation became public knowledge.

Gohil started his awareness campaign with sheer courage, and he believes that people are more accepting of him. “I am getting better respect than when I was in the closet. Most of the royal family members are proud that I am the only royal who has been interviewed by Oprah, not just once but thrice.

The prince is of the opinion that LGBTQ celebrities coming out in the open and talking about their sexual orientation is the right way forward. He explains, “The media will widely report them as they did in my case and they can use their status and reputation to influence the society’s mindset for better acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ issues.”

In India, prominent names and faces in the media would greatly help portray same sex relationships in a better light.

It is indeed ironic that, in India, giving hostile looks to strangers or staring at women is not frowned upon, but attraction between people of the same sex is stereotyped and stigmatised. Manvendra Gohil further points out the irony, “We live in a homosocial society where it is common for two males or females to hold hands and hug each other in public without fear of judgement. Same-sex roommates can easily rent a room but for renting a place with the opposite sex it is a challenge.”

A common notion about LGBTQ people is that they have some “problem” or are “abnormal’. Research demonstrates that this isn’t true. And it is high time that society stops ostracising people on the basis of their sexuality or gender.

On February 20, 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took a significant step towards this by launching an app called Saathiya (literally, “companion”). It provides information to adolescents on questions related to their changing bodies, including, among many things, attraction to the same sex. A decade after his Oprah debut, the society in Gohil’s home country is closer accepting queer Indians.

But for major change to happen, it’s Indian families that have to change. And the prince had this advice to give: “People close to the individual should love their friends and children the way they are. If one is gay, one is born gay in the same manner that one is born straight.”

You must be to comment.
  1. chirantana_

    Hey Nikita, it will be nice if you correct the beginning of your article. It was not Oprah Winfrey who introduced the gay prince but a journalist from India, to be precise from Vadodara, Gujarat who did the coming out story of the prince on 14 March 2006 and it was published in a national newspaper. It will be interesting to know how this actually happened. Don’t give the credit to Oprah, he was invited on the show as he was news in India by then. You can connect with me to know more about this. Thank you 🙂

  2. chirantana_

    It was not Oprah Winfrey who introduced the gay prince to the world, it was a journalist from India, to be precise, Baroda, Gujarat who dis his coming out story. Don’t give the credit to Oprah, he was a news in india and so was invited on the show. If you want to know more about this contact me.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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