Indian Prince on Being Gay, a Royal and an Activist
A crowded cocktail bar in New York's Murray Hill neighborhood might seem like the world's least likely place to encounter a royal. But then again, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil has a flair for the unexpected.
Billed as the "world's first openly gay royal," the 45-year-old prince has become a fierce civil rights activist and spokesperson for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in his native India. The son of the maharajah in Rajpipla, Gohil's public disclosure caused riots in his homeland in 2006 at the same time that his parents, who hail from an Indian dynasty more than 600 years old, publicly disowned and disinherited him. But as the leader of an Indian HIV/AIDS-focused organization and the editor of his nation's first gay lifestyle magazine, Gohil says he is now living life openly and on his own terms.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
Coming Out in India: No Royal Road
"The sooner we come to terms with our realities," he says of his decision to come forward about his sexuality, "the majority of our problems are solved. No matter what the world says, being gay is absolutely normal and natural."
In Manhattan for a cocktail gala to benefit his philanthropic foundation Lakshya Trust, Gohil strolls the red carpet with ease, dressed stylishly in a feathered orange turban and fine jewels. Later in the evening, he boasts of his "pink palace," which he describes as resembling "strawberry cake with icing." Sure, there are hints of self-mocking, but that sassy tone places him in an international fraternity from Chelsea to London's Soho back to West Hollywood.
While the mild-mannered Gohil might ooze confidence now, his early years growing up as a member of the royal family in Rajpipla, in the Indian state of Gujarat, weren't so easy. His exposure to gay culture in India, where homosexuality was illegal until recently and sex acts between two men or two women punishable offenses, was non-existent.
A super-conservative upbringing at the family residence in Mumbai only made things more problematic. He told The Los Angeles Times in 2007 that his closest friends were his servants, and he felt more affection for his nanny than he did for his mother.
In 2002, 10 years after a failed -- and, he now says, unconsummated -- marriage to an Indian princess, Gohil suffered a nervous breakdown. It was at that point that a psychiatrist informed his family of his sexual orientation.
Though his parents were shocked at first, it wasn't until four years later, when Gohil came forward about his sexuality in a local publication that they publicly disowned and disinherited him. Naturally, it didn't help that, as the only son, Gohil was next in line to the throne.
"It's not natural. Anything which is not natural," King Ragubir Gohil Singh, the prince's father, told ABC in 2007. "You can't have children because it is not something which one is meant for." Meanwhile, stories about Singh Gohil were splashed all over Indian newspapers, while locals burned effigies of him. "As long as royal secrets were preserved within the four walls of the palace, it was fine," the prince recalls. "But Indian society is very conservative, so that instigated them to public disown and disinherit me."