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Openly gay Indian prince shares failed methods to turn straight: shock therapy, marriage, vegetarianism, religion


In this Dec. 12, 2016 file photo, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil speaks with a reporter during an interview in New Delhi. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

When Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the Crown Prince of one of India’s oldest families, came out as gay in 2006, he made history by becoming the world’s first openly gay prince. But the surprising announcement by the probable heir of the Maharaja Rajpipla, a city in India’s fifth largest state Guajarat, didn’t sit well with his family and community.

“People are so agitated and furious that their prince brought shame to us, to the family, shame to our heritage. Shame to the lineage," he told Oprah Winfrey in 2007.

His father refused to accept the news (“It is not natural,” he said), while his mother took out an ad in a paper to disown her only son, who was 40 at the time.

His former subjects were outraged, and "my effigies were burnt by the people of Rajpipla, who respected me as royal,” as he explained to the BBC in 2018.

Adding to his personal drama, by coming out in 2006, Prince Manvendra also risked being thrown in jail. India would only strike down section 377 of its penal code ? a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex relationships ? 12 years later, on Sep. 6, 2018.

Now, reflecting on the first anniversary of that historic win for the Indian LGBTQ community, Prince Manvendra talked to Business Insider India about his journey from an unhappy, deeply closeted young man who tried to “cure” his sexual orientation, to a 53-year-old man who’s fulfilling life as India’s first openly gay prince and a tireless LGBTQ activist who helped get rid of section 377.

"As I was growing up, I was attracted to the same sex but couldn’t understand what’s wrong,” he told the outlet.

His parents didn’t understand him either. They took him to counseling, and made him undergo shock therapy as a way to convert him into a heterosexual man. They even inquired if his sexual orientation could be surgically fixed.

Without seeing any success, they tried the religious approach — and a different diet.

"I was asked to try everything from being vegetarian to write Ram Ram, (the name of Lord Ram) thousand times," he said.

When he realized he wouldn’t be able to pray the gay away, Prince Manvendra thought that a wife would to the trick.

“I was so unaware about the whole thing that I thought probably after I get married, maybe I could become a heterosexual,” he said.

That didn’t work, either. His marriage only lasted 15 months.

All the failed attempts were leading him toward a nervous breakdown, and he was hospitalized in 2002, he said in the 2007 Oprah interview.

“I was getting treatment in the hospital by this psychiatrist and while he was treating me, I came out to him through one of the counseling sessions and he was very, very understanding and he said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You should be proud of your sexuality.’ And it was he who actually volunteered to tell my parents about myself. It was through him I came out,” he said.

After accepting himself, Prince Manvendra found a new purpose in life. He started working as an activist advocating for the rights of LGBTQ community.

In 2000, he started a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the Lakshya Trust. In 2014, he launched a grassroots campaign called Free Gay India, which fought for the legalization of same-sex relationships. In 2018 he opened up his 15-acre palace to vulnerable LGBTQ people who were disowned by their families after coming out.

During this year’s Pride celebrations, Prince Manvendra traveled to New York City to set up a charity event to raise $400,000 to build a shelter for LGBTQ people in India.