Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

India's Prince Manvendra

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, born the son of a Maharaja in 1965, is the 39th Gohil ‘Raja’ of Rajpipla, a direct descendant of a 650-year-old Indian dynasty. As a prince of the Kingdom of Rajpipla in western India, he grew up pampered by servants in a pink palace which his father now operates as a heritage hotel, the Ravjant Palace Resort (photo below). Such an arrangement is now common, after the Republic of India de-recognized all princely families in 1971, when Prince Manvendra was six years old.

As expected in a culture of arranged marriages, Manvendra took a wife in 1991. Because he was homosexual, the marriage was not consummated, and a divorce was granted in 1992, after he confessed his sexual orientation to his wife.

“I regret ruining her life. I feel tremendously guilty.”

Manvendra has stated that he thought his homosexual urges would dissipate upon marrying, because his isolated and artificially protected upbringing did not afford him access to a modern understanding of homosexuality. His only male/male sexual experiences had been during his adolescent years, in physical explorations with one of his servants.

After a hospitalization due to a nervous breakdown, Manvendra’s doctors revealed his homosexual orientation to his parents, who eventually disowned him for bringing shame to the royal family. In an unusual move, he has since chosen to be honest with his citizens, speaking publicly in 2006 about his sexual orientation with the hope of changing how Indians viewed homosexuality. That year the story of Manvendra's coming out made headlines in India and around the world. His effigies were burnt in Rajpipla, where traditional society was shocked.

In 2007 Manvendra appeared as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show as one of three persons featured in a segment titled 'Gay Around the World'. He stated that he had no regrets about coming out, and that he believed the people of his state respect him for his leadership in preventing and educating his citizens about HIV/AIDS. As well, he revealed that he had become involved in a social network to help gay people in Gujarat. Manvendra explained that 85 percent of India’s gay men are married to women, most of them forcibly, through arranged marriage. At the time of his TV appearance, homosexual acts were still a crime in India, but decriminalization legislation was passed in 2009.

“The people in Rajpipla look up to us royals in times of crisis, and  I try to carry out the duties of my forefathers from the past. My main purpose in coming out openly was that I wanted to break the myth that prevails in Indian society that homosexuality is a Western influence and that homosexuality only exists among those in the lower economic status.” The prince recently participated in Adam Bouska's NoH8 world-wide photographic protest against California's Proposition 8.

Somewhat surprisingly, Prince Manvendra has thrived since coming out and reappeared on Oprah last year to tell how his life has moved forward. He has reconciled with his father and has founded the Lakshya Trust, which supports sexual minorities in India. The prince was a recent keynote speaker for a symposium on gay tourism in India. In his state of Rajpipla, there is now a restaurant with out, HIV-positive employees, a Transgender Welfare Board, and plans for a retirement home for LGBT individuals.

“It was difficult to be gay in my family. The villagers worship us and we are role models for them. My family didn't allow us to mix with ordinary or low-caste people. Our exposure to the liberal world was minimal. Only when I was hospitalized after my nervous breakdown in 2002 did my doctor inform my parents about my sexuality. All these years I was hiding my sexuality from my parents, family and people. I never liked it, and I wanted to face the reality. When I came out and gave an interview to a friendly journalist, my life was transformed. Now, people accept me.”

Prince Manvendra, still unattached romantically in his mid-40s, uses gay dating websites in India.

“The problem is that people don't believe it is actually me. Whenever they see my profile and photographs, they tell me to take my profile down. They think I am a fake and ask me not to spoil the image of the prince they respect so much. I have a difficult time convincing them.”

Manvendra recently announced that he planned to adopt a child in the near future. If the adoption proceeds, it will be the first known case of a single gay man adopting a child in India.

“Adoption has been common in most royal families in India. The male is very important to carry on the family lineage. I made this announcement to answer the questions of the people in Rajpipla, who are looking forward to the next in line. I have not yet reached the stage where I have taken action, since my father still has the authority to make decisions. Once I take charge, then I will adopt a full-grown male from our extended family.”

Gohil serves as a sort of touchstone for closeted men and women the world over. Lately, it seems, everywhere he turns, someone is desperate to come out to him. “A lot of people have confided in me,” he says, “and they’ve been from royal families, not only in India but across the world. They’ve been industrialists, business tycoons, men and women with high-profile lives. Almost every week someone comes out to me.”

There are plans to turn Prince Manvendra's life story into a major motion picture. The script is to be written by another royal, Prince Amarjit Singh, a member of the Kapurthala royal family.

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