Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the world’s first openly gay prince, was honored with a humanitarian award at Emerson College Los Angeles (ELA) on June 11.
“I don’t know if I deserve an award. I’m just doing my duty,” said Gohil, who runs The Lakshya Trust, an Indian charity that aims to achieve sexual tolerance and gender equity. “If I could be a help to any person, I would be very happy.”
As an openly gay prince in a country where the act of homosexuality is illegal, Gohil has become an inspiration to the gay community and a pariah to opponents of LGBTQ rights.
The only son of the maharaja, or Indian prince, of the city of Rajpipla, Gohil was raised to preserve his family dynasty. He entered an arranged marriage, divorced soon after, and fell into a depression after years of repressing his sexuality. In 2006, the public announcement of his coming out created a firestorm and made headlines around the world. The prince was featured on a BBC Radio documentary and Oprah, among other media outlets. Back home, Gohil’s family accused him of bringing dishonor to the clan and disowned him.
From left: Marilyn Monroe impersonator, AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy Terri Ford, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, AIDS Healthcare Foundation's President and Founder Michael Weinstein, and Impulse Group's Jose Ramos. Photo/Daryl Paranada
“We kind of live in the promised land when it comes to LGBTQ rights. I don’t think we appreciate that [in America],” said Michael Weinstein, president and founder of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit provider of HIV prevention services and healthcare. “There’s not a single gay establishment in Delhi. [Being gay] is officially illegal in a place that has almost 1 in 5 people in the world.”
Gohil serves as an ambassador to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Impulse United, a volunteer group of active gay men whose purpose is to promote healthier lifestyles using modern social approaches. Both organizations helped to sponsor the evening at ELA.
Prince Manvendra addresses the crowd after receiving an award honoring his humanitarian efforts. Photo/Daryl Paranada
The latest government figures show that there are about 2.5 million gay people in India, of whom 7.5 percent are HIV-positive. In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which dates back to 1860 and makes homosexual intercourse a criminal offense. In 2013, India’s Supreme Court overturned that judgment. Earlier this year, the court announced that it will review the law criminalizing gay sex.
During the awards presentation, Weinstein and Terri Ford, chief of Global Advocacy and Policy at AIDS Healthcare Foundation, both spoke about the incredible work that Gohil has done to further LGBTQ rights and HIV prevention and treatment in India.
“You can’t be gay in India. That’s the reality,” said Ford. “To have one person that’s out, gay, and willing to spread the word to the media and the world is incredible.”
Alumna Wendy Wheaton '89 and Prince Manvendra. Photo/Daryl Paranada
The event was executive produced by alumna Wendy Wheaton ’89 and featured an array of entertainment, including a deejay, photo booth, Marilyn Monroe impersonator, and performances by So You Think You Can Dance contestant Asaf Goren and other dancers. Wheaton, founder of Tinseltown Productions & Management, first met the prince when she traveled to India in 2014, around the time of Gohil’s birthday.
“Their idea of how they would celebrate was very mellow, sitting on a floor, tranquil. I promised him I was going to throw him a party and show him how we celebrate in Hollywood. This is how it all came about,” said Wheaton, who is working on a television documentary showcasing Gohil’s life and is in talks with major production companies about a reality show starring the prince.
The theme for the night was “freedom to be who you are,” a concept that Wheaton adopted and is used by Gohil to reach other people and encourage them to be themselves. Wheaton said hosting the event at ELA was a natural fit since Emerson College continually ranks highly as one of the LGBTQ-friendliest colleges in the nation, taking top honors by the Princeton Review in 2015. Parts of the evening were filmed for the documentary.
Attendees mingle at an event honoring Prince Manvendra. Photo/Daryl Paranada
“The one word of essence that describes Prince Manvendra is humble. That’s what I think has drawn me to him,” said Wheaton. “It’s been incredible seeing everything come together and to have my alma mater host this amazing event honoring someone who is such an incredible activist, philanthropist, and human being.”
Gohil said he was particularly excited to have ELA host the event because education is so important to him.
“I’m glad that colleges like Emerson are friendly and supportive toward LGBT issues,” said Gohil. “Other colleges should take inspiration.”
One message that Gohil said he wanted to send to students and young people who are coming to terms with their sexuality or struggling to fit in is to not be afraid of who you are.
“Be yourself and be proud of yourself,” said Gohil.