A gay Indian prince has opened up his 15-acre palace grounds to vulnerable LGBT people and is said to be constructing more buildings to house visitors.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who is the son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat in western India, will run the centre with his organisation The Lakshya Trust.
The royal, who was ostracised by his family after coming out publically in 2006, started the community based organisation to support gay men and educate people about the prevention of HIV/Aids.
Homosexuality remains a big taboo in Indian society and sex between people of the same gender is punishable by law in the country.
The controversial Section 377 of the country’s penal code bans sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” and many have interpreted the wording to include gay sex.
Speaking to the International Business Times, the prince said he was keen to empower people with the social security system they need to ensure they are not left with nothing if their families disown them after coming out.
“If I could undergo these problems then any other gay person could face a similar situation,” he said.
“In India, we have a family system and we are mentally conditioned to be with our parents. The moment you try to come out you are told you will be thrown out and society will boycott you. You become a social outcast. A lot of people are financially dependent on their parents.”
“I want to give people social and financial empowerment, so eventually people who want to come out won’t be affected. They will have their own social security system. It won’t make a difference if they are disinherited.”
The prince’s coming out was breaking news all over India at the time and resulted in effigies of him being burned in his home state and people calling for him to be denied his title. On top of this, he was disowned and disinherited by his parents.
Since then he has been the subject of BBC series Undercover Princes – a 2009 reality TV show which took three royals from their respective cultures and put them in Brighton where they were forced to “live and date”.
Prince Manvendra’s charity provides counselling, clinical services and support groups to thousands of men who have sex with men. Many of the men in question have yielded to cultural burdens to marry women despite their sexuality.
The prince himself was forced into marriage in 1991 but has since said the relationship was “a total disaster”. It resulted in divorce the following year.
Prince Manvendra, who had a highly traditional and conservative upbringing, appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show back in 2007. He was one of three persons featured on the show titled “Gay Around the World”, saying he does not regret coming out and that he thinks the people living in his state admire him for the leading role he has taken in preventing and educating about HIV/Aids.
Last summer, India’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling confirming the right of the country’s LGBT people to express their sexuality without discrimination.
Judges in India ruled sexual orientation is covered under clauses in the Indian Constitution that link to liberty in spite of the government claiming there was no legal right to privacy. The ruling leads the way for discriminatory practices against LGBT people in the country to be challenged in the courts.