To Americans, Prince Manvendra’s coming out may not seem like a significant occurrence, but in India, where there is not even a Hindi word for “gay,” even the subject of homosexuality is taboo. The prince’s revelation contradicted widely held beliefs that being gay or bisexual in India was something that occurred within the lower ‘caste,’ among the poverty stricken slums, not within Indian royalty.
When the prince came out on the front page of the local Hindu fundamentalist newspaper, it sparked a national debate. His family tried to disinherit him, and the local people of Rajpipla burned his effigy in the streets, shouting demands that the prince be stripped of his royal status, be labeled as an “outcast” (meaning that he would be assigned a lower ‘caste’), and that he be barred from attending public functions.
The prince’s father, the Maharaja of Rajpipla, told the British BBC of his embarrassment over the subject of his son’s homosexuality being discussed outside the royal family, and how he thought his son’s volunteer work in HIV/AIDS prevention was not appropriate for someone of his ‘caste.’
In his decision to come out publicly, the prince told The Huffington Post:
“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; that homosexuality only exists in the lower economic status;
and (I sought) to improve education about HIV to reduce the stigma.”
Prince Manvendra is the founder of the LAKSHYA TRUST (meaning “one who aims at an objective or goal”), the first community-based organization for HIV/AIDS prevention in India, which provides free counseling services, condom promotion, treatment of sexually transmitted infections, Anti-Retroviral Therapy resources for HIV positive persons, and a hospice/old age home for gay and bisexual men from the rural locations of Gujarat State in India.
The Prince was honored as a recipient of one of the first “VOICE” awards, after coming out on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007 as the world’s only openly gay prince.
On May 2, 2014, Sergeant Mitch Grobeson bodyguarded His Royal Highness Manvendra Singh Gohil, Prince of Rajpipla, India, for the first annual “VOICE” Awards, raising funds for both the Gay Men´s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS organization.
Mitch Grobeson is a retired Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant, and the first openly gay police officer in Southern California. Since 1983, Sgt. Mitch has provided pro-bono security for LGBT, and HIV/AIDS organization’s fundraisers, so that money raised can go directly for client services. On May 2, Sgt. Mitch provided security for the event to raise funds for AHF and the GMCLA, and also served as a bodyguard for Prince Manvendra.
This was the Prince’s first trip to Los Angeles, but not to the United States. Manvendra appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show on October 24, 2007, as one of three persons featured in the show entitled “Gay Around the World.” Oprah gave Manvendra a chance to speak out throughout the world about his experience in coming out as India’s first openly gay royal prince.
“The invitation by Oprah was a turning point in my life. Because many people in India are fans of Oprah, it made them realize that they must rethink their bias against homosexuality. There is a lack of acceptance of gay people in India, with the common misconception in Indian society that being gay is tied to ‘caste,’ and only present among those of lower economic status. For many, the concept of a gay Indian prince is unthinkable. Homosexuality is perceived as coming from the Western world, not from within India.”
In 2000, Manvendra started the Lakshya Trust, a community-based organization dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, providing counselling services, clinics for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and the promotion of use of condoms, especially among bisexual men.
Prince Manvendra told BBC radio:
“Our survey has shown that almost 75 percent of gay men in India are married to women. Most of these marriages are forced and arranged by parents…They are forced to live a dual life, and when it goes beyond their control, the marriages end in divorce. Because of this pressure to get married, many gay people attempt suicide or suffer from depression and other mental health problems.”
The Lakshya Trust was the first organization in India to start working with wives of gay and bisexual men. The Trust employs women “peer educators” who are married to gay/bisexual men to provide education to Indian women in similar situations.
Due to overpopulation in India, many women undergo operations so that they can’t bear children, and in the absence of condom usage, wives are at a greater health risk if their husbands have had unprotected sex with other men. To prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, the Trust focuses on counseling for wives of bisexual husbands, as well as providing “partner treatment” for sexually transmitted infections for these women.
The BBC radio report also revealed that that Manvendra’s father was a guest of honor at a fundraising event for the Lakshya Trust, and that he was beginning to accept his son’s sexual orientation.
In 2006, the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) located in New Delhi, India, presented the Lakshya Trust with the “Civil Society Award” for its contribution in preventing HIV/AIDS among homosexual men. The CCS is a world famous non-profit independent research and educational organization based in New Delhi whose motto is “social change through public policy,” that provides government policy recommendations to India and throughout Asia.
Sgt. Mitch Grobeson has guarded Johnny Depp, Jodie Foster, James Earl Jones, Shirley MacLaine, Annette Benning, Liza Minnelli, Dick Van Dyke, Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, Rita Moreno, Julie Newmar, Hal Holbrook, Grace Jones, Florence Henderson, Kathy Griffin, Selena Gomez, the cast of “Desperate Housewives” – as well as the Pope and Presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson. For over a decade, he has served as the bodyguard for “Hello Dolly’s” incomparable Carol Channing, volunteering his services to any celebrity who agreed to participate in charitable fundraising events for organizations throughout Southern California. But this particular assignment held a unique place in his volunteer work.
“As someone who has dedicated over 30 years providing personal security for VIP’s, including some of America’s most famous movie stars, when they volunteer their time to help HIV and AIDS organizations raise desperately needed funds for client services, I can honestly say that I have never met anyone more dedicated to this cause, Said Sgt. Grobeson. “ Prince Manvendra turned down numerous invitations from people at the event, telling them he felt an urgent need to return to India to oversee his work getting medicine and medical treatment for those who have HIV or AIDS. He is most definitely the ‘Mother Theresa’ of India’s gay and bisexual population, for men and women.”