Openly gay Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil fights to reform anti-LGBT law

Openly gay Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil fights to reform anti-LGBT law

Openly gay Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil fights to reform anti-LGBT law

Updated 23 January 2018, 20:10 AEDT

The world's only openly gay royal, Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, has made it his personal mission to campaign for reform of India's anti-LGBT laws.

Mr Gohil, from the state of Gujarat in western India, first came out in 2006 and recently announced plans to open his palace as a community centre for LGBT people.

Indian law currently criminalises sexual acts between members of the same sex, but the Supreme Court of India has ordered a review of the legislation in 2018.

Mr Gohil said while social change had been slow, things were getting better for young gay, lesbian and transgender people in India.

"Definitely there has been a huge change in the last 11 years [since I came out]. There have been some parents who have accepted their children," he said.

"There has also been a lot of change in the way that the media has been reporting. Earlier, the media would get the stories mixed up and say it's unnatural and illegal and immoral.

"Now the media has also started reporting positive stories, and that's a very good thing. The more support we get from society outside of the community, that's something which will help us win our rights."

The news of Mr Gohil's own homosexuality in India 11 years ago prompted a media backlash and violent public retaliation.

"The people of my kingdom, they all revolted and they burned my effigies in fire, and they protested against my coming out," he said.

"[They said] that I should be stripped of my title, I should not be allowed to attend any functions and I should be socially boycotted.

"My parents, the king and queen, they brought out public notices saying they would like to publicly disown me from the royal family and publicly disinherit me from the ancestral property."

'It's my duty to educate these people'

The response to his coming out was not entirely unexpected though, and something Mr Gohil attributed to an ignorance of LGBT issues in India.

"Even things like sex education is not taught in our education institutions. So it's absolutely understandable that people are not aware," he said.

But Mr Gohil said while he did not blame Indian people for their lack of understanding, he saw it as his duty to inform them.

"It's my duty, the duty of an activist like me, to educate these people about what is the facts," he said.

"And it's only then that they will start accepting us and understanding our issues."

Mr Gohil's palace community centre aims to provide clinical services as well as financial support and skills training for LGBT youth to become financially independent from their families.

It is also hoped the community centre will offer free safe-sex seminars to young gay and lesbian Indians around the country.

Above all, the centre is part of a campaign to fight for what Mr Gohil said were rights enshrined in the Indian constitution.

"All we are saying is we need our equal rights," he said. "We need the right to live with equality, dignity and respect without being discriminated against, and the right to privacy."

Anti-LGBT laws hangover of colonial era

As for the anti-LGBT law itself, Mr Gohil was adamant it would change, even if for the reason the law was not entirely Indian to begin with.

"This law was not an Indian law. One has to understand that homosexuality has been existing in our Indian society since bygone eras," he said.

"We have the famous Kama Sutra — the sex encyclopaedia — which was written 500 years before Jesus Christ was born. And it has a full chapter dedicated to homosexuality and transgenderism.

"We have temples in India which are centuries old where homoerotic statues have been openly depicted."

Instead, he said, institutional anti-LGBT attitudes were the relic of British colonial rule and the influence of other religions like Islam and Christianity.

"We have got independence 70 years ago, when we have got rid of the British. I don't understand the reason why the laws made by them are continued," he said.

"And especially in our country, where our religion is predominantly Hinduism, is openly tolerant towards homosexuality."

Parents 'realised their mistake'

More than a decade after coming out, Mr Gohil said he had mended his relationship with his father, the king, who had originally publicly disowned him.

His father had shown support for his son's plans and was even present at the launch of the LGBT community centre to lay a foundation stone.

"[My parents] realised their mistake and the whole idea of disinheriting and disowning didn't work out because they were actually doing it under pressure," he said.

"It was only the instigation of the conservative society of India which pressured him to take this step. And he said sorry about what he has done to me."