Born into a royal family as the heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat, Mavendra Singh Gohil had every privilege a young man in India could ask for. In 2006, he publicly came out as homosexual in an interview with Chirantana Bhatt. This act of courage changed his life irrevocably.

Manvedra Singh realized he was gay around puberty, the same time when most kids begin their tryst with sexuality. He was sent to a co-educational school. But instead of developing a boyish interest in girls, Manvendra made several close friendships with girls his age. He realized then that he was different though he struggled to diagnose and label this difference.

As Manvendra struggled to understand whether he was the only one with these feelings, he worried that this was a mental disorder of some sort. In the absence of exposure, this confusion continued well into his youth.

In 1991, at the insistence of his parents, he married Chandrika Kumari, Princess of Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. This was an unhappy marriage and Chandrika Kumari filed for divorce a little over a year later. This led Manvendra to actively explore his sexuality.

Talking about his coming out story, Manvendra smiles and says that the detached parenting style of the Royals worked in his favor. When Manvendra came out as gay, his parents disowned him; it did not sting as much. Having been brought up by a nanny for most of his childhood, Manvendra never had a close bond with his parents. What did hurt, however, was the humiliation and discrimination he had to face for no fault of his own. Manvendra’s coming out was not taken too kindly by the people of Rajpipla either. They burned his effigies on street corners and heckled him for bringing shame to the royals

Today an established LGBTQIA+ activist, Manvendra’s story is equally inspiring and tempestuous. But Manvendra found many friends and mentors in the LGTBQ+ community after coming out. He was mentored by senior activists like Ashok Row Kavi who is the founder and chairman of the Humsafar Trust, an LGBT rights and health services NGO. Kavi was one of the first gay rights activists in India. These friendships and mentorships have endured over time and have proved to be immensely helpful in Manvendra’s journey. He proudly tells us that now he has reached a stage in life where he is able to provide a support system and mentor young people in the community.

Manvendra tells us that there was initially a lot of fear about coming out publicly. This is because he had no idea what being gay even meant outside of stereotypes and stigma. But over time, he has overcome his fears and is now happy to be living his truth to the world. He cheekily recites a poem that he had learned in school:

Work while you work. And play while you play. That is the way to be happy and gay.

Manvendra started his organization, Lakshya Trust, in 2000. His impetus to get involved was the rise of HIV-related deaths in the gay community. By this time, he had already trained as a counselor at the Humsafar Trust. Since then, he has contributed significantly to the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in India.

Manvendra has an interesting take on the massive privilege that he was born with. He has no qualms about acknowledging its benefits. His tag as India’s 'first openly gay prince’ has given him access to a number of prominent celebrities and politicians. He has met celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, and the Kardashians, and politicians such as Justin Trudeau and Nicolas Sarkozy. But he is also clear that this privilege which has over time proven to be a boon must be extended to those who have been born without it.

Having had first-hand experience with conversion therapy, much of Manvendra’s activism revolves around compelling the state infrastructure to ban it in the country. As a young gay man, Manvendra was subjected to many horrifying practices by doctors and psychiatrists. These doctors claimed that they could ‘cure’ his homosexuality. He has recently petitioned the supreme court of India to ban conversion therapy and has full faith that justice will be delivered by the Indian judiciary. Well-known activist Deepak Kashyap, himself a survivor of conversion therapy, is Manvendra’s co-petitioner.

He thinks that allies from outside the community have a much larger role to play now than ever before. They must educate themselves on LGBTQIA+ issues, actively interact with members of the community, and speak out publicly even if it leads to uncomfortable interactions. According to Manvendra, the only way to help is to be vocal and break the silence. By being an ally and speaking out about the struggles of tribal communities, women, and the disabled, he has devised a way to practice what he preaches. In turn, this has also led him to find allies in other minority communities as well.

Speaking about the role of corporates in India, Manvendra emphasizes that they must do more than just rainbow capitalism. There is more to LGBTQ+ than just pride month, and they should be supported 365 days a year. Of the many ways corporates can help, Manvendra tells us that workshops and seminars to educate and sensitize their employees will make it easier to actively recruit members from the LGBTQ+ community. Token gestures and one-time events during Pride Month are meaningless unless they engage actively with the community.

Manvendra says that the world today has changed a lot since he came out as a gay man in the late 90s. He is confident that the present generation’s access to social media offers more scope for interaction, exposure, awareness, networking, and the mainstreaming of LGBTQ+ issues. He tells us that we must place hope in the movement and that our journey toward equality, acceptance, and love will only continue to increase in the coming days.

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