World’s First Openly Gay Royal Is on Fairy Tale Search for Love
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
February 07 2012 4:00 AM ET
Growing up, India's Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla knew there was something different about him. It wasn't something he could share with his parents; in fact, says the prince, royal children aren't usually that close to their biological parents. Servants, not parents, generally raise royal kids, so much so that even he thought his nanny was his mother for many years. When Manvendra was 12 or 13, one of those servants, a orphan boy his same age, helped Manvendra explore his difference, his homosexuality, though it would be more than two decades before he came out publicly. When he did, his father disowned and disinherited him, his countrymen burned effigies of him, and many demanded that he be stripped of his royal title.
What a difference six years make. Today Prince Manvendra, now 47 and one of the three stars of TLC’s new series Undercover Princes, which airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central), is an advocate for both gay and HIV causes in his homeland and abroad. In the new four-part series — think Coming to America meets a classier Jersey Shore — three men of royalty go undercover in England as commoners to find true love.
Regarding tonight’s episode, TLC publicists boast that Prince Manvendra contemplates the opposite sex, although we doubt he's “going bi” as they posit in the press release. Prince Manvendra's unconsummated 1991 marriage to Princess Yuvrani Chandrika Kumari from Jhabua ended when the prince revealed his sexuality to her. Either way, we're tuning in. The Advocate chatted with the prince about what it means to be the only known person of royal lineage to have publicly come out as gay.
The Advocate: So tell me, why did you decide to do Undercover Princes?
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil: I think one of the reasons was that the whole show involved me being undercover, which would give me an opportunity to do all those things a modern commoner is supposed to do. So that is one of the reasons I thought it would be a challenge for me because I would be able to do all those things which I can’t do ... in India.
When people thought you were a house cleaner, how differently were you treated?
It was a very challenging thing for me because I was supposed to do things which I don’t do normally back in India. I mean something like clean the house or, you know, doing up the room or cleaning up the toilets, the washrooms — what they expected on the show. I had to keep telling myself again and again that I am undercover and not supposed to reveal my true identity. So that was a learning experience for me itself.
It sounds like you’re more closely guarded while you were in India than while you were filming the show in Bristol.
Was that liberating or frightening?
No, it was not frightening. It was liberating.
You came out as gay in 2006 but you actually knew much sooner than that right?
When did you first know you were gay?
I was different than others when I was quite young, as a teenager. But I didn’t know that the attraction to the same sex was homosexuality. I mean, I didn’t know the definition of that. You know? As I was growing up, you can say when I was around 12 or 13, I was getting this attraction to the same sex. I probably [thought it was] something temporary in my life or some kind of [rite of passage] when I was I growing up. I didn’t know back then that this kind of attraction means being homosexual or means being gay.
That awareness came as you got older.
That understanding came much later, because being brought up in a royal family you’re not exposed to a lot of terms of this kind. Homosexuality is a taboo in our country. It’s not spoken of much. There is always stigma and discrimination attached with that. Because of that, there is no discussion happening on this topic in our country. I think I would be around the age of 28 when I realized I’m gay. I mean, understanding that this kind of behavior means “being gay.”
You were disowned and disinherited when you came out publicly. Has your family’s attitude changed since that day?
Yeah. I was attached to a cause right from the beginning. I was very much concerned about the lack of awareness in the Indian society about homosexuality and about HIV/AIDS because I’ve been working for HIV/AIDS [causes] since 1995, especially among the gay community, and I was not satisfied by the way people are in their approach to homosexuality or their approach to HIV/AIDS. So I said, “It doesn’t matter if I have to sacrifice something in my life, but I want to stand up and fight against this kind of discrimination in our country. And I must make people realize that we are also human beings, that we should also get respect without being discriminated against.” And that was the main reason I came out of the closet and declared myself.
How much impact can a gay member of royalty actually have in India?
In India, I’m still respected because, especially those royal families where the ruler has done something for the people or for the welfare of the state — and fortunately my ancestors have done a lot for the welfare and social upliftment of the people — so we are being respected by the society, we are treated like gods. People actually worship my sisters, their statues. So there is a lot of respect from the society, so it definitely makes us different because they treat us as their role models. And I’ve also started in working for the people in the a similar manner as my sisters. I started working for ... the social cause for the people, much before I came out, in the fields of education, health, agriculture, giving employment opportunities, tourism. I was quite popular amongst the people of my town, so because of this, when I came out it had a big impact. When you rule, when you are popular and you come out openly and talk about your sexuality, it carries a lot of weight.
It was really shocking though to some people. Some of your countrymen were burning effigies of you.
Calling for your title to be removed.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
What was that like?
People were a bit confused. [I planned] my first interview carefully. I said, “I may be the first member of the royal family to come out as gay, but I’m not the only one.” Which means that there are a lot of royal families, and royals in India who are gay. But they are closeted. You know? I know a lot of royal families in India who are gay or lesbian and they also know ... that I know about them. So when I came out openly and declared myself they were kind of a bit worried that I might out them also. They are the ones who instigated the people against me
That’s disheartening. So they thought by coming out, you might also out them, to further the cause.
Yeah. They wanted to break my popularity, so that’s the reason they instigated the people against me. When all that happened I ... stated, Whatever the people have done, I don’t blame them. I blame their ignorance. And I’m sure when they know about homosexuality and they have an understanding what homosexuality is, the same people will again come back to normal. Because this was just the first reaction, since people don’t know what homosexuality is. They have a lot of misconceptions about homosexuality, so that’s the reason they acted in this manner. It’s very natural. I expected there should be some reaction.