India’s First Openly Gay Prince, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Is Opening A Safe Haven On Palace Grounds For LGBTQ People
The life of royalty isn't always a fairy tale. When India's Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil came out as gay in 2006, making him the only openly gay prince in the world, he was publicly disowned by his parents. Now, 12 years later, the prince has opened his palace to LGBTQ people as a much-needed safe haven for his country's oppressed LGBTQ community. If you're looking for an example of someone who uses their privilege to help others, you can stop right here.
Despite being ostracized by many members of the royal family, Prince Manvendra is the only son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat, a state in western India. According to the International Business Times, he announced on Saturday that he would use his 15-acre palace grounds as a center for the LGBTQ community. Working with the Lakshya Trust, the LGBTQ foundation he founded in 2006, he plans to build new structures on his property to accommodate more guests in the future. Ultimately, the center plans to include a music therapy room, health clinic, support groups, and other programs to help LGBTQ people find their footing if they have been cast out.
Although the Supreme Court recently ruled that citizens have a right to privacy, giving hope to the country's LGBTQ population, sexual activity between two people of the same gender is currently illegal in India. This colonial-era ban was lifted in 2009, but unfortunately, it was reinstated once again in 2013, rolling back LGBTQ rights in the country. (India's Supreme Court is in the process of reconsidering the law.) Manvendra told the IB Times that many Indian people are "mentally conditioned" to be dependent on their parents, and as a result, they feel they cannot come out to their families out of fear of being disowned.
"The moment you try to come out you are told you'll be thrown out and society will boycott you. ... A lot of people are financially dependent on their parents," he told the web site.
As mentioned above, Prince Manvendra's own parents were less than accepting of his sexuality when he first came out. According to the Huffington Post, his mother even paid for a newspaper advertisement making it clear she disowned her son. Fortunately for the prince, he had a royal safety net in place, but he recognizes that not everyone is in such a situation. That's why he has opened his own grounds to the LGBTQ community; he told The Independent that he wanted the center to serve as a support system for less privileged LGBTQ people.
"I want to give people social and financial empowerment, so eventually people who want to come out won't be affected. ... It won't make a difference if they are disinherited," he said.
Prince Manvendra has been applauded in the past for his LGBTQ advocacy, which includes serving as the Indian ambassador for the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and his recent announcement has drawn widespread acclaim online.
On Twitter, one user described him as "a man with a royal soul... endlessly supporting the marginalized."
"What you're doing is amazing! Many blessings!" tweeted another.
At the moment, two LGBTQ people live alongside Prince Manvendra in his palace: his manager and a transgender American woman. (He told the IB Times that in parts of India, it's safer to be transgender than in parts of the United States thanks to religious beliefs about gender ambiguities.) If all goes as planned, though, that number will quickly increase, giving LGBTQ people a new option for living openly and independently. Hopefully, Prince Manvendra's selfless example will inspire other rulers around the world to welcome their LGBTQ subjects with open arms.