Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, India, always knew he was different. As a young teen, Mavendra found the reason for that difference: he realized he was gay. Unfortunately, this revelation posed several problems for the young man. For one thing, homosexuality was a criminal offense in India at the time. For another, Mavendra is in line to become the country’s 29th Maharaja. He is the world’s first openly gay royal.
Mavendra is one of three single royals featured in the new TCL dating series Undercover Princes and was recently interviewed by The Advocate. In the interview, the prince discusses his public coming out in 2006 and the controversy it stirred. Other gay royals, still closeted, worried that he might betray them and worked to undermine Mavendra’s reputation. They encouraged public burning of effigies and called for Mavendra’s titles to be stripped. Anti-gay sentiment ran high.
“[The other royals] wanted to break my popularity, so that’s the reason they instigated the people against me,” he told The Advocate. But Prince Mavendra didn’t blame the public. “I blame their ignorance. They have a lot of misconceptions about homosexuality, so that’s the reason they acted in this manner.”
In 1995, before he came out, Prince Mavendra became involved with campaigns to raising awareness for HIV/AIDS. He explained that in India, “[marriage] is compulsory for everyone. We have said that 85% of men, homosexual men, get married to women. So they are living a double-standard life.”
This contributes to rising numbers of HIV infections. “[Married men] continue to have the gay lifestyle,” Mavendra continued. “And some of them have unsafe sex with their partner and then they are not able to use condoms with their wives and they infect the wives also.”
His activism played a significant role in his decision to come out. Mavendra told The Advocate that he was dissatisfied with the public’s perception of gay people. The cause needed a figure to rally around. “It doesn’t matter if I have to sacrifice something in my life, but I want to stand up and fight against this kind of discrimination in our country,” he said. “And I must make people realize that we are also human beings, that we should also get respect without being discriminated against.”
Thanks in part to Prince Mavendra’s efforts, homosexuality was decriminalized in India in 2009. Mavendra also says that public opinion has evolved to be more accepting of gays and lesbians. The prince’s courage and honesty have changed hearts and minds across the country, if not around the world. He spoke of his dedication to the principles of Mathatma Gandhi. “No matter what, whatever you do, if you are true and honest to yourself, then you will always win,” Mavendra said.
“People have said that they aren’t concerned whether I’m gay or straight, but the fact that I told the truth to the world is what matters the most to them.”
Image credit: McKay Savage (Creative Commons Attribution License)