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21 May 2010

Fridae's LGBT People to Watch 2010: Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil

The series presents 10 movers and shakers in Asia who are set to bring about positive change in their local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

This week we put the spotlight on gay and AIDS activist Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 39th direct descendant in the 651-year dynasty of Rajpipla and the first Indian royal to come out as gay; and Bhumika Shrestha, who at only 23 was officially sworn in as a member of the Nepali Congress making her the first representative of the transgender community in Nepal’s ruling political coalition.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but we are sure that this handful of extraordinary individuals will encourage and inspire you. If you know of anyone who you think is doing an amazing job for the greater good – whether they be activists or artists, entrepreneurs or entertainers, send us their details at editor@fridae.com.

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil

In 2006 the 39th direct descendant in the 651-year dynasty of Rajpipla, a former princely state which now part of Gujarat in Western India, made headlines when his coming out story spread like wildfire across India’s and the world’s mediacape. The Prince’s story was a beacon of light to the Indian LGBT community yearning for positive role model. However universal acceptance was not won overnight. Despite his blueblood status, Gohil suffered a backlash. His parents publically disowned him and segments of traditional society burnt effigies of the Prince, demanding that he be stripped of his title.

Since then, time has healed many of the wounds. There has been some reconciliation in the royal household and the Prince – the only openly gay royal in the world – has earned the respect from various sectors of the community, a trend that was accelerated after he established the Lakshya Foundation which strives towards greater awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention among sexual minorities. 

Gohil won the UNAIDS Civil Society Award for his work and has been made the India regional representative for the Asia-Pacific Coalition of Male Sexual Health (APCOM). His extraordinary story brought him to The Oprah Winfrey Show and Gohil was also the subject of a BBC Reality TV show The Undercover Princes about finding love in Brighton's gay bars.

In December 2009, Gohil went on an official fact-finding mission to Australia in hopes of gathering knowledge on best practise in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He also used this trip to raise awareness of fight against laws that criminalise homosexuality struck down in India and across the Asia-Pacific region. 

Against the backdrop of slow, but significant progress in India’s campaign to repeal the anti-gay Section 377 of the Penal Code over the past 12 months, the advent of Bollywood’s first film to feature a gay kiss and the recent death of a prominent Indian University academic under “mysterious circumstances”, Gohil remains as an enlightening figurehead for the Indian pink community. And with plans for the opening of an old age home for gay men and lesbians as well as a biographical film about the 44-year-old Prince’s life due for release he is sure to continue to inspire and impress.

æ: Why do you do this work?

I think in country like ours the requirement to raise awareness about HIV-AIDS is very high. Given the total population, we still need more and more people to work on the same goals. 

æ: How do you think you can make positive change happen in 2010?

I think constant talking to media and raising awareness about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenders and the work I do with my foundation is what I can positively do the best. 

æ: What is your message to people who stand in your way?

I don't think people are standing in my way, I haven't done anything personally against them. What they are against is the acceptance of sexual variety because they see it as morally reprehensible and corrosive to traditions and culture. 

The only message I have to them is that ignorance will never help them come out of the irrationally hate they have filled their lives with about homosexuality. I don't entirely blame them, I blame their ignorance.

Prince Mavendra Singh Gohil can be contacted via the Lakshya Foundation at www.lakshyafoundation.org

With contributions from Laurindo Garcia, Patty Tumang and Sylvia Tan.


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